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Raber sentenced

Year-long split sentence given for manslaughter by vehicle

 

November 28, 2019



After an emotional hearing in the courtroom on Wednesday, Lesley Raber has been sentenced to one year in jail with six months of that time suspended for the misdemeanor crime of homicide by vehicle.

Judge Thomas Rumpke heard testimony from both sides, including evidence of Raber’s good behavior while out on bond and impact statements from the family of Nancy Robison, the motorcyclist who was killed when Raber pulled out in front of her at an intersection on Highway 212 last August.

Deputy County Attorney Linda Black, for the prosecution, brought forth testimony and evidence to suggest prior bad behavior on the part of Raber with no consequences and a lack of remorse.

She submitted two Facebook posts from friends of Raber that were apparently posted at the behest of Raber herself and called a friend of Raber’s to the stand to discuss a string of text messages recovered from the friend’s phone, which discuss Raber’s counseling after the crash.

“She said, ‘I’m not going to continue because they want me to be raw in the stand…raw emotionally,” said the friend. In redirect, Peterson established that it was Raber’s first attorney who had advised her to stop going for counseling and not a decision made by Raber.

The friend also spoke to Raber’s drinking habits, saying she had seen her consume alcohol a number of times and “sometimes it would be a single drink, sometimes it would be numerous”. She stated she had seen Raber drink a case of beer over “a number of hours”.

The friend also described Raber’s reaction to discovering that her friend had been called for questioning by Wyoming Highway Patrol and told them about the case of beer and a rumor regarding a previous crash Raber had allegedly been involved in. “She said I shouldn’t have told them,” she said.

Black also called Trooper Kevin McMaster to the stand to speak to an internal Wyoming Highway Patrol inquiry about that previous crash. However, the judge sustained an objection and later stated he would not be considering the testimony on the basis there is no proof alcohol played a part.

Having already read numerous character and victim impact statements from friends and family on both sides, Judge Rumpke also heard statements from three members of Robison’s family.

Robison’s sister-in-law spoke at length of the aftermath of the “tragic and unnecessary death”. She spoke of her deep depression, constant tears, bad sleep and loss of appetite and “light speed” emotions.

“Will we make it through this? Right now, I would say no, we are broken, but I guess time will tell,” she said, describing the grief felt by the family and the hardships they experienced on top of the sorrow.

For example, she spoke to several changes of trial date that led to canceled plane tickets and plans, high travel costs to repeatedly come to Wyoming from Indiana and the difficulties encountered when attempting to take Robison’s body home. “How much is too much for a grieving family?” she asked.

The sister-in-law stated that she came to feel during the process that the accused has many rights that need to be protected, while Robison lost hers and the family seems to have none at all. She described her anger when two of Raber’s supporters called the police on her husband as he expressed his grief outside the courthouse following the trial.

The verdict, she said, appeared biased and uneducated: “Your attorneys and jury helped you get away with murder that day.” However, Judge Rumpke stopped her to explain that his court follows the rule that, while it’s fine to be critical of the judicial process and verdict, it is not acceptable to criticize the jury’s service.

The sister-in-law also referred to statements made by the defense during the trial that there can be no winners and losers in a case of this nature. She pointed out that the defense attorneys bragged about their win on social media and are using it as an advertising tool.

The attorneys won, Raber won and her friends and family won, said the sister-in-law, but Robison lost her life and her friends and family lost Robison.

Robison’s brother also took the stand to tell the judge that, “The actions of the defendant, Lesley Raber, have changed our lives forever”. Stating that words cannot encompass “the magnitude of our loss”, he spoke to the pain felt and the sacrifices and suffering so many have endured due to Raber’s actions.

“All of this pain and suffering is your fault,” he told Raber. He also claimed to have seen no remorse, sympathy or compassion from Raber’s side of the aisle and that not one of them offered assistance or cared about Robison at the scene of the crash.

The brother concluded his statement by offering thanks to the prosecution team for going above and beyond to keep the family informed and support them. He also thanked Highway Patrol for performing their job well and with dignity.

Robison’s daughter described an “amazing woman with a heart of gold” and also spoke of her grief, as well as the “exhausting” responsibility of executing her estate.

Everyone who lost Robison received a life sentence, she said, of knowing no more memories can be made, there will be no closure and there has been no remorse. She accused Raber and her supporters of thinking themselves “above the law” and said, “My biggest fear…is that no one learned a lesson”.

Devon Peterson, for the defense, presented evidence to show Raber’s good behavior since the date of the crash and the grief and hardship she has already experienced.

An employee of Freedom Fighters Bail Bonds, was called to describe Raber’s behavior in the months between being bonded out and her trial. Until March, he said, she wore a GPS ankle monitor and was required to submit to breathalyzer tests regularly from her home.

The breathalyzer was set up to demand five regular breath tests per day and three random tests. At first, an alert for Raber to perform a random test could happen at any hour of the day; in March, when the conditions of her bond were changed and the GPS ankle monitor was removed, it was altered to allow a sleeping period between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Aside from being required to travel to Gillette to test for false positives, the employee agreed with Peterson’s assertion that Raber was virtually confined to her home for 15 months while awaiting trial.

“There hasn’t been any noncompliance on behalf of Ms. Raber,” he said, agreeing that the conditions were “fairly onerous”, but reasonable considering the severity of the charges against her.

Raber’s fiancé spoke of life since the crash, describing the state of disbelief he and Raber have lived in, the “neverending doom”, nightmares, grief and the “constant reminder” of living beside the intersection where the incident took place.

“If you think we can just go home and everything will be forgotten, you’re wrong,” he said. “This is a wound that will never fully heal.”

Peterson addressed what he called a flaw with the justice system: the inability to say sorry. Until the sentencing hearing, he said, expressing remorse could have been interpreted as an admission of guilt.

“They are so sorry that this happened. They feel terrible – Ms. Raber feels terrible,” he said.

Raber instantly checked on Robison at the scene and was “hysterical” – it’s not true she didn’t care, he said, adding, “She was devastated and still is.”

Closing his case, Peterson argued against incarceration, pointing out that the jury only found Raber guilty of improperly making a left hand turn and a prison term would neither deter her nor the general public from making the same mistake. He also pointed out that the past 15 months have been “basically home arrest” for Raber and she has punished herself all this time.

“She has wasted away over the last 15 months,” he said, stating that she is a human being who has feelings and is scarred by what happened. The accident site being situated so close to her house is a “severe punishment” for what she was found guilty of.

“She has been through enough punishment,” he said, suggesting a “creative” sentence that could include, for example, counseling, community service or community outreach.

Black, however, closed by arguing for the full possible sentence of one year of jail time. Referring to the rumors of a past crash involving Raber, she told the judge that she included McMaster’s testimony to demonstrate that Raber is used to there being no consequences for her actions.

Regarding the friend’s testimony that Raber had been angry with her for talking to law enforcement, Black argued that Raber was only upset at having been caught. Speaking to the Facebook posts, she said, “There has been a lot of victim blaming in this case and no accountability.”

Black also argued that the charge for which the jury returned a guilty verdict included negligent behavior and that the court could reasonably consider the consumption of four beers to apply.

The final step before Judge Rumpke retired to consider his decision was to hear from Raber herself.

“My heart breaks when I think of how many people Ms. Robison told she would see when she got home from her trip to Rally,” said Raber. Her voice unsteady, she spoke of her grief and said, “I will live the rest of my life trying to make up for that loss.”

Presenting his sentence, Judge Rumpke explained that he is obliged to consider four factors: general deterrence, specific deterrence, retribution and rehabilitation. He stated that he agreed with the defense that the jury’s decision precluded him from considering Raber’s blood alcohol content.

However, he said, the evidence presented at trial showed she drank four beers on the morning of the crash and that there were two hours unaccounted for during that morning.

“We know she was drinking, we just don’t know how much,” said Rumpke.

In the judge’s opinion, it doesn’t matter what her specific blood alcohol content was; he reminded the courtroom of local billboards that proclaim “buzzed driving is drunk driving”.

“That is the specific deterrence I wish to send to the community,” he said. In terms of general deterrence, he added, you “don’t have a few beers and then see if you can get home”.

The severity of this crime is “immense”, said Rumpke. A woman’s life was lost and no sentence available to him would be able to mend or change what happened.

Judge Rumpke sentenced Raber to one year in the county jail, with six months suspended pending successful completion of six months of probation and credit for five days already served. Raber was also ordered to pay all court-ordered costs and fees.

Raber was given a five-day sentence for the charge of failing to safely make a left-hand turn, to run concurrently, and a $100 fine for the charge of open container.

Raber was ordered to report to the jail to begin her sentence at 5 p.m. on the same day.

Charges have been dropped against Lloyd Raber, father of Lesley Raber, who was charged with accessory after the fact on the basis that he is believed to have attempted to hinder, delay or prevent evidence of a felony crime being discovered with the intent of deceiving or altering the outcome of any alcohol testing performed. The matter was heard on November 18 by Judge Matthew Castano, who found good cause existed to dismiss the matter.

 
 

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