BREAKING: JURY FINDS CASPER BUSINESSMAN TONY CERCY GUILTY OF SEX ASSAULT CHARGE
THERMOPOLIS -- A jury found Casper businessman Tony Cercy guilty of one count of third-degree sexual assault at the end of a seven-day trial Tuesday at the Hot Springs County Court House.
After deliberating for about eight-and-a-half hours on Tuesday and about two hours Wednesday morning, the jury announced it had reached a verdict about 10:45 a.m.
Natrona County District Court Judge Daniel Forgey called in the jury at 10:55 a.m., the presiding juror handed the bailiff the verdict form, who in turn handed it to the judge.
Forgey said the form was in order and handed it to Natrona County Clerk of District Court Gen Tuma who read it.
Most of the approximately 30 people in the courtroom were family and friends of Cercy, and they gasped and cried when they heard “guilty.” His wife Caryl sobbed.
The victim’s family was not present, but was informed by Natrona County District Mike Blonigen of the verdict.
After thanking the jurors for their service, saying it was one of the most important duties of a citizen, he dismissed them.
Blonigen then stood up and asked that Cercy be taken into custody until his sentencing because of his substantial assets and that he poses a flight risk.
Cercy’s defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca responded that Cercy, who has been free on a $100,000 cash bond, does not pose a flight risk because he has his assets and family in the Casper area (although Caryl Cercy testified they were in the process of moving to Texas), that he has no criminal record, that he has contributed to the Casper community, and that he has appeared for all court hearings.
Forgey asked Blonigen to prepare a court order for a presentence investigation. Third-degree sexual assault is a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years.
The judge then ordered Cercy be taken into custody and held without bond until sentencing because of the information the court has about him, coupled with the serious nature of the crime, that he poses a danger to the community and is a flight risk.
Cercy hugged Pagliuca and defense attorney Pamela Mackey before being taken into custody.
After Forgey said the court was recessed, spectators left the courtroom with many of them walking down the stairs to the entrance of the Hot Springs County Court House.
The only comment from the Cercy family was “Go to hell” to a reporter.
The victim’s family has been represented civilly by attorney Marci Bramlet, who said the family would have no immediate comment.
Blonigen held an impromptu press conference.
He thanked the jury and especially the victim for her courage to come forward and testify in the first trial in February, and in this trial, he said.
“If there’s one lesson from this case, it’s that we have to do more to listen to sexual assault victims so they feel free to come forward and report,” Blonigen said. “It’s obvious from this case and from so many other cases that we are not doing a very good job at this.”
The case has been difficult for the victim, but she’s dealing with this up-front and that’s the best thing possible, he said. “It’s not just going to go away, it’s going to be there.”
Blonigen didn’t think the outcome was a result of changing the venue of the trial to Thermopolis. Jurors are capable of setting aside any preconceived ideas and render fair verdicts, he added.
Some factors hindered the prosecution, such as not finding Cercy's DNA on the victim or her clothing, and the prosecution would have liked to have had that, he said.
But the case was helped by relatively immediate reporting of the crime, consistent statements, more than 40 calls and other attempts to communicate on her phone, and a credible story, Blonigen said.
The new trial also had the benefit of hearing the changes in testimony from the previous trial, the DNA testing of the couch cushions that revealed both the victim’s and Cercy’s DNA, and the evidence on Cercy’s iPhone with two 1.5-second audio recordings about the time he drove her to near a friend’s trailer, Blonigen said. “It wasn’t smoking gun stuff; it was corroboration of the other corroboration.
The trial also highlighted some larger cultural issues, he said.
The criminal justice system continues to be biased in favor of the wealthy over the poor, Blonigen said.
The criminal justice system in Casper needs to look at sexual assault of adults the same way it does of children with counseling and legal assistance, he said. “What you hear from these victims time after time is that fear that ‘I won’t be believed — in fact I will suffer more damage from reporting than I will by just keeping my mouth shut.’”
The MeToo movement had little if any effect on the outcome, Blonigen said. If anything, it worked against the trial in February because of hostility expressed by some potential jurors then, and some of the victim-shaming he saw on social media, he added.
The cultural attitudes also are reflected in the bias against sexual assault victims, he said. When someone says they’ve been robbed at gunpoint in a store and knows the robber, investigators don’t ask the robbery victim if they know it was a robbery, about the color of the gun, or investigators didn’t they find the gun or just what $20 bills were taken so the perpetrator isn’t charged, he said.
“We have a different attitude with sexual assault victims,” Blonigen said.
“We immediately suspect the victim,” he said. “Until you change that frame of mind, it could be very hard to change what happens to a sexual assault (victim) here or anywhere else.”
In the near future, Blonigen said Cercy will be able to file appeals, and can petition the court for him to be released from custody before his sentencing.
The case began on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, when law enforcement received a report from the victim and her family about an incident at Cercy's house at Alcova Lake the previous weekend.
Court records say the victim told a Natrona County Sheriff's investigator she, her boyfriend, friends and acquaintances arrived at Alcova Lake on the evening of June 23 and spend the next day at the lake. She was drinking heavily and passed out on the rear deck of a boat at Sandy Beach.
On Saturday evening, they went to another location and about 9:45 p.m. went to a residence on Cedar Drive North owned by Cercy.
She said she went into the residence and passed out on the couch in the middle of the living room.
She woke up, looked down and saw Cercy performing oral sex. She pushed him away and asked what he was doing, and he responded he was trying to "'get some action'" from her for the last hour with his "'tongue and “d—.’”
Nearly all of her clothing had been removed and Cercy was naked from the waist down.
The victim said he gave her a ride to a friend's place at the Alcova Trailer Park and threatened to kill her and himself if she told anyone.
Cercy was arrested July 28, and was charged with:
One count of first-degree sexual assault (rape), when the perpetrator "knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was physically helpless and that the victim had not consented," which is punishable by between five and 50 years of imprisonment.
One count of second-degree sexual assault (intrusion) "by means that prevent resistance by victim," which is punishable by between two years to 20 years of imprisonment.
One count of third-degree sexual assault, or sexual contact "without inflicting sexual intrusion and without causing serious bodily injury."
In February, a jury in Natrona County District Court acquitted Cercy of the first- and second-degree counts, but deadlocked on the third-degree count.
Forgey declared a mistrial. The alleged victim asked Blonigen to retry the case. Forgey granted Cercy's request to move the trial to Thermopolis, citing concerns over the intense publicity before, during and after the trial.
The defense made several unsuccessful attempts to have Cercy acquitted primarily because the attorneys said the acquittals on the first- and second-degree counts included oral sex. To try him again on that would mean a violation of his constitutional right to not be tried twice for the same crime, known as double jeopardy.
The most recent attempt occurred two weeks ago in a petition before the Wyoming Supreme Court, which denied the request on Nov. 7 and cleared the way for the trial to begin Nov. 9.