Nation - Wyoming Judge: Trucker won't depose former trooper early Driver was kidnapped in plot to extort money from Wal-Mart

By Ben Neary

Associated Press Writer

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- Lawyers representing a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. trucker kidnapped by a former state trooper during an aborted murder plot last year won't get to question the trooper before he is sent to a prison out of state, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William C. Beaman declined a request from Cheyenne lawyer Pat Crank to allow him to question former trooper Franklin Ryle on an expedited schedule.

Crank represents trucker Richard J. Smidt of Arvada, Colo., who sued the state last month saying Highway Patrol administrators got him to accept a $10,000 settlement last year without telling him that Ryle planned to kill him.

Ryle received a 15-year federal prison sentence last November for violating Smidt's civil rights.

Prosecutors say Ryle had planned to kill Smidt and stage an accident involving Smidt's truck to try to collect a settlement from Wal-Mart. Although Ryle detained Smidt for about an hour, he ultimately released him unharmed.

Ryle has stayed in the area pending the resolution of a state criminal charge against him. Ryle and another former state trooper were accused of bringing steroids from Mexico to Wyoming.

Ryle pleaded guilty last Friday in Natrona County District Court to a charge that he conspired to sell illegal steroids. A judge sentenced him to serve 18 to 24 months, to run concurrently with his federal sentence.

Crank argued to Beaman that since Ryle no longer needs to be in Wyoming to answer the state charges, he is likely to be transferred to a prison out of state where it will be more expensive and difficult for lawyers representing Smidt and the state to interview him.

Ryle has requested that he serve his time in Texas, to be close to family.

Misha Westby, lawyer with the Wyoming Attorney General's Office, urged Beaman to deny Crank's request.

Westby said the state expects Smidt's case to be dismissed on grounds he had signed the settlement agreement. She said the state's lawyers shouldn't have to go through the effort to prepare for questioning Ryle when the case is unlikely to proceed.

Smidt's lawsuit named former Patrol Administrator Sam Powell and other top patrol officials. The suit claims they negotiated the settlement with Smidt without telling him about Ryle's plot.

Smidt argues that Ryle violated Smidt's constitutional rights by kidnapping him and charges that Ryle's supervisors failed to oversee him and other officers adequately.

While the Wyoming Attorney General's Office is defending Powell and the other administrators, the state is not defending Ryle.

Attorney General Bruce Salzburg told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the state would only be obligated to defend Ryle if "the conduct which is alleged to form the basis of liability was 'requested, required or authorized' by the Wyoming Highway Patrol."

Crank said Ryle hasn't responded to Smidt's lawsuit and said he has no indication that Ryle intends to hire a lawyer to defend himself.

Crank told Beaman he expects the case will proceed despite the state's request to dismiss it. He said the highway patrol lacked authority to enter a settlement with Smidt. And Crank questioned why, if the settlement means the case has no merit, the state refuses to defend Ryle.

Beaman said he doesn't know how U.S. District Judge William F. Downes will rule on the state's motion to dismiss Smidt's case. However, he denied Crank's request for an order to question Ryle early.

Beaman said neither Smidt nor the state would suffer irreparable harm by traveling to question Ryle in prison, if it's necessary. Beaman said the state would be harmed by granting the request because it hasn't had time to firm up its legal theories of the case.

Published: Fri, May 14, 2010

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