The split verdict — not guilty of sexual battery but guilty on two counts of unlawful contact — generated mixed emotions as it was read aloud in Teton County Circuit Court in the wee hours Saturday morning.
Attorneys, witnesses, victims, the defendant and supporters of both waited near the Teton County Courthouse for six hours Friday night while the jury deliberated on six criminal counts against William “Mike” Crothers. The 53-year-old faced three counts of unlawful contact and one count each of sexual battery, breach of peace and permitting an underage house party.
Teenage girls sobbed outside the courtroom after the verdict came around 12:45 a.m.
“These kids were really brave, and they told their stories, and they matter,” Teton County Prosecutor Erin Weisman said, pointing to the young women, one crying in her office, another doubled over on a bench, being comforted by her mother.
Fixated on the sexual battery acquittal, the verdict came as a blow for some.
“I have been suffering for an entire year,” one teenage victim said after regaining her composure. “I’ve been bullied. ... I can’t eat. I don’t sleep, and I’m, like, never happy anymore. That’s all he got, are you kidding me?”
The defense, led by Laramie attorney Tom Fleener, did not comment when contacted Monday by the News&Guide.
Crothers will be sentenced by Judge James Radda at a later date. Each of the three misdemeanors he was found guilty of — two counts unlawful touching and permitting an underage house party — carries a six-month maximum sentence.
The three-day criminal trial drew a standing-room-only audience, with almost 80 people watching as it came to a close.
Court bailiffs enforced a “one person out, one person in” policy Friday afternoon to keep the courtroom from being over its capacity.
Prosecutors Clark Allan and Carly Anderson called 10 witnesses with the hope of convincing the jury that Crothers drunkenly kissed and groped two teenage girls during a May 2019 high school party at his John Dodge house.
Though the jury aquitted Crothers on three counts, Weisman said Tuesday she was “very pleased” with the guilty verdict on the other three counts.
“My sincerest thanks goes out to the jury in this case,” she said. “I think it is important to note that the state couldn’t have proven our case without these young adults who were willing to testify and tell their stories.”
Of the 10 witnesses called by prosecution, nine were teenagers. The defense called one witness, also a teenager.
“You’ve got a drunk and smelly 53-year-old man kissing 16-year-old girls,” Allan told the jury during his closing arguments Friday. “It was unwanted, and it was forced.”
One victim testified that Crothers kissed her and grabbed her behind. She said alcohol doesn’t excuse his behavior, calling it “scary, horrifying and traumatic.”
On cross examination, she acknowledged that she was drunk and said she did not remember one unwanted kiss seen by a peer. That eyewitness testified that he saw Crothers kiss her.
“He bent down trying to kiss her, and she kept going back to try and get away,” he said. “There wasn’t much room for her to go back, and he kissed her.”
Another victim testified that Crothers tried to kiss her but that she turned her head just in time, forcing his lips onto her cheek rather than her lips.
“He was stumbling around and couldn’t walk straight,” she said. “It was uncomfortable, so I was avoiding him.”
Some of the state’s witnesses said Crothers also made sexual remarks to them when he arrived at his house May 11 after a night out drinking and attending the Bras for a Cause benefit at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.
“He said he needed some p---y,” a teenage girl testified.
Another witness said Crothers called his 17-year-old friend a “hot piece of a--.”
Teton County sheriff’s Deputy and Jackson Hole High School resource officer Andrew Roundy started looking into the allegations in mid-May, about five days after the house party. Crothers has two teenage children.
“I was in my office and had someone come to my office and say, ‘We have a student who’d like to speak with you,’” Roundy testified Friday morning.
Roundy started interviewing eyewitnesses. Some students were more reluctant than others to share what they saw. There was underage drinking and marijuana at the party, the kids admitted. A bong was being passed around in Crothers’ “ferret room,” a room off his garage where he reportedly keeps pet ferrets.
A video of Roundy’s interview with Crothers was played in court.
“I just checked on the kids in the garage, and it seemed like they were having a good time,” Crothers said. “Maybe I should have just not talked to anybody.”
“Do you remember kissing any girls at the party?” Roundy asked.
“No, no, no,” Crothers said. “I just can’t imagine doing that, and I do not remember it.”
In the recorded interview Crothers was embarrassed and apologetic.
But when Roundy said he was going to issue him criminal citations, Crothers started dropping names, saying he was a member of the sheriff’s auxiliary and donated to Sheriff Matt Carr’s campaign.
“I didn’t realize you were a member of the auxiliary,” Roundy said.
“For many, many years,” Crothers said. “I’ve given them money any time someone got hurt around here, doubled up on stuff, and catered events for them. I gave Matt a bunch of money for his campaign. ... And all that stuff doesn’t really mean anything to you?”
Roundy responded: “There’s not much I can do about it, but I understand your stance, I understand your role in the community, I understand your reputation. So I understand that it’s impactful. Although I can’t do anything about it, it’s regrettable. I wish that this didn’t have to happen.”
Crothers countered: “But that wouldn’t impact your need to write me any of these tickets at all?”
“No. I couldn’t let that influence it,” Roundy said. “That would be unethical of me to do that. Essentially it would be the same as someone giving me the money so that I’m not issuing a citation.”
Crothers was cited for unlawful contact, and later the Teton County Sheriff’s Office added a high misdemeanor sexual battery charge.
1 teen for the defense
Crothers decided not to testify. His attorneys called only one witness, a teen who was at the party.
“Everybody was pretty drunk that night,” the witness said.
The witness said he had his eyes on Crothers during the party and didn’t see him kiss any girls.
“People were just like, ‘This cool dad is going to party with us,’” the teen said.
The witness said one of the victims in the case tends to exaggerate.
He also said some of his friends tried to intimidate him out of testifying at trial.
“I was told I would lose respect and friends and family,” he said.
On cross-examination Allan pointed out that the witness is good friends with the Crothers family and while he said he wasn’t paid to testify, he did admit to taking a free trip on the private Crothers jet to Las Vegas.
“Whose money was spent?” Allan asked.
“Mr. Crothers’,” the witness said.
Allan also tried to get the jury to question the defense’s sole witness by bringing up his known drug activity.
“Was it marijuana in the ferret room?” Allan asked.
“I’m currently on unsupervised probation for it,” the witness admitted.
In his closing arguments Fleener told the jury that the only thing his client was guilty of was making a few girls uncomfortable and for not breaking up a high school party that was happening in his house.
“It isn’t a crime to make people uncomfortable,” Fleener said. “Find him not guilty, please. Enough is enough.”
Crothers was found guilty on two counts of unlawful contact and permitting an underage house party. The jury found him not guilty of sexual battery, breach of peace and one more count of unlawful contact.
Verdict near 1 a.m.
Members of the jury took notes during the trial, and that’s what they had to rely on during deliberations because of the lack of physical evidence. Jurors came to an agreement on most counts, but close to midnight on Friday they came back to court and told the judge they couldn’t come to a consensus on one of the unlawful contact charges. Judge Radda told them to keep deliberating until they could agree.
Exhausted and overwhelmed with an important decision, the jury convened again and finally rendered a verdict close to 1 a.m. Saturday.
With three misdemeanor convictions Crothers faces up to one and a half years of jail time and various fines. Judge James Radda will deliver a sentence in Teton County Circuit Court. As of Tuesday the hearing had not been set.
— Cody Cottier contributed to this story.