Suspension of Prosecutor’s Law License Draws Conflicting Responses
State Supreme Court rules after attorney found guilty of prosecutorial misconduct
- Published In: Criminal Justice
- Last Updated: Feb 11, 2022
The Wyoming Supreme Court on Feb. 2 ordered a three-year suspension of the law license of former Teton County deputy prosecutor Becket Hinckley for prosecutorial misconduct during the 2015 trial of Josh Black, who was convicted of aggravated assault and battery. (Courtesy photo)
By Shen Wu Tan
Special to the Wyoming Truth
That’s how Josh Black, a free man after spending six years in Wyoming prisons for aggravated assault and battery, said he felt when he learned that a Teton County prosecutor wasn’t disbarred for numerous counts of misconduct in Black’s case.
The Wyoming Supreme Court on Feb. 2 ordered a three-year suspension of the law license of former Teton County deputy prosecutor Becket Hinckley for prosecutorial misconduct during Black’s trial in 2015. A jury had sentenced Black to life in prison. That conviction was later overturned due to Hinckley’s misconduct, and Black received a lesser sentence in a plea agreement.
The suspension of Hinckley’s law license goes against a recommendation made last May by a three-member panel of the Wyoming State Bar that Hinckley be disbarred due to his misconduct.
Three of the five state Supreme Court justices voted for suspension, while Chief Justice Kate Fox, joined by Justice Michael Davis, wrote a dissenting opinion, arguing that Hinckley should have been disbarred.
It is not common for attorneys in Wyoming to be disbarred or to have their law license suspended, said Mark Gifford, bar counsel for Wyoming State Bar. He said there are about 150 complaints against lawyers in the state each year, but only about 10% lead to some type of disciplinary action. Many complaints against lawyers don’t have evidence of misconduct to back them up; however, that wasn’t the case with Hinckley and his handling of Black’s trial, Gifford said.
The court found that Hinckley failed to comply with a pretrial discovery order to obtain the victim’s Facebook and Verizon records at the request of the defendant. The state Supreme Court also found that Hinckley didn’t comply with court-imposed deadlines and made improper statements during his closing argument at trial.
Hinckley, who now resides in California, declined to comment about the suspension order or how he handled the case involving Black when contacted by the Wyoming Truth. During the Wyoming State Bar hearing last year, Hinckley admitted to making mistakes that he said he regretted.
“They found him guilty on multiple disbarment issues and said the punishment was disbarment on multiple issues and so for the Supreme Court to say that a suspension is warranted and not a disbarment, it left me speechless,” Black told the Wyoming Truth. “I was so baffled and beside myself that, to be honest, I don’t even know what to say. Justice wasn’t done.”
The Teton County and Prosecuting Attorney’s Office did not respond to multiple requests for comments on the Supreme Court’s decision.
Black, 42, now resides in Laguna Beach, California, working as an electrical technician who specializes in solar power plants. He moved from Casper to California in July after being released from prison in 2020.
During the plea agreement that reduced his sentence, Black was represented by attorneys Elizabeth Greenwood and Inga Parsons, who are advisory board members for the Wyoming Truth.
Black had been accused of beating his former girlfriend on the evening of Oct. 26, 2014, according to court documents. She was hospitalized for several days and had sent text messages and cell phone photos of herself to others that night and the next morning, blaming Black for her injuries.
She had reported that she and Black had a fight during the night, but that she had difficulty remembering details about the altercation, the Supreme Court order of suspension said.
“I was lucky to have Becket in my corner,” said Black’s former girlfriend, who asked to be identified as Kelli Windsor, using her former last name. “We all knew what Josh Black did, there was never any doubt in anyone’s mind, including the jury. The evidence, and my testimony, proved that. He was a habitual criminal who almost killed me, and he tried to blame anyone else he could to get away with it. But he knows what he did.”
Windsor added, “I’m sad that Becket is going through this still. He cared so much about this case. It’s really unfortunate that it ended up the way it did.”
During multiple interviews with law enforcement, Windsor couldn’t recall events that took place on Oct. 26, 2014, and also looked at pictures of her cell phone and realized that “her timeline was off,” the suspension order said.
Black said he never assaulted Windsor. He said they had been drinking on the day in question and that Windsor took some sleeping medications as well. He said he went to bed at about 8:30 that evening and, when he woke up, he found her with injuries to her face.
A jury found Black guilty of aggravated assault and battery in 2015, and he was sentenced, as a habitual offender, to life in prison due to prior felony convictions in California. Black appealed, and the Wyoming Supreme Court reversed his conviction in 2017 after finding Hinckley violated multiple rules of professional conduct.
The case was then remanded to Teton County for a second trial where Hinckley was again assigned as prosecutor in 2018.
Hinckley still didn’t comply with the court order in which he was supposed to obtain information from Facebook and Verizon about the alleged victim’s accounts from before and shortly after the assault and hand it over to Black, the suspension order said, which noted Hinckley had failed to obtain these records in the first trial.
Former Teton County attorney Steve Weichman removed Hinckley from the case as prosecutor months later after failing to provide evidence a judge ordered.
Black ended up pleading no contest to the charge in exchange for a reduced sentence that set him free.
During Black’s six years behind bars, he was housed at different facilities throughout Wyoming, including the Teton County jail, Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins and the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton. He was released from state custody on March 11, 2020.
After filing a wrongful prosecution civil rights claim against Hinckley and Teton County, Black was awarded $135,000 in a settlement against Hinckley, former county attorney Steve Weichman and current Teton County prosecuting attorney Erin Weisman.
In his free time, Black said he takes advantage of the California beaches to surf when he can. He also enjoys off-road racing in the desert and spending time with his family.
“There was a part of my life I thought I would never see again,” Black said. “Today, I’m eternally blessed. I have a lot. And I feel bad for the people that are in there [prison] either on overinflated charges or for wrongful convictions or who are 100% innocent. I feel terrible for them. Maybe that’s the purpose. Maybe that’s the thing I need to go chase down and start helping people who are in that situation because I’ve been given this chance. I’ve been given this opportunity.”