THE SEARCH FOR IRENE: Fiancé of Missing Kenyan Granted Second Continuance in Irene Gakwa Case
Defendant cites new search warrants and public scrutiny as reason for needing more time
- Published In: Criminal Justice
- Last Updated: Oct 27, 2022
Pictured above is Nathan Hightman, 39, who was charged with five felonies, including three financial crimes, against 33-year-old Irene Gakwa who disappeared from the couple's Gillette home last winter. (Photo courtesy from Campbell County Detention Center)
By Jennifer Kocher
Special to the Wyoming Truth
This story has been updated from a previous version.
GILLETTE, Wyo.—A Campbell County district judge granted a second continuance request by the fiancé of a missing Gillette woman who has been charged with five felonies related to crimes against her with a new pretrial conference scheduled for January.
Nathan Hightman, 39, was charged in May with three felonies related to financial crimes against 33-year-old Irene Gakwa, including transferring more than $3,600 from her bank account and maxing out her credit card. The other two charges involve crimes associated with changing her banking password and deleting an email account.
Gakwa was reported missing by family on March 20 after moving from Idaho to Gillette with Hightman in the summer of 2021.
Hightman has pleaded not guilty to all five felonies and maintains that Gakwa left on her own accord, getting into a dark-colored SUV with an unknown driver with her belongings packed in two plastic bags.
This is the second time Hightman’s court appointed lawyer, Dallas Lamb, has requested a continuance.
His first pretrial conference in district court in Campbell County had been set for Sept. 1, but Hightman was granted a continuance until Nov. 3, with his jury trial tentatively scheduled for Dec. 5.
District Judge James Michael Causey greenlighted the request, according to a document filed on Oct. 27, with a new pretrial hearing scheduled for Jan. 4, 2023. Hightman’s jury trial also has been rescheduled for Feb. 6.
Hightman first requested the continuance on the basis that he needed additional time “to determine an appropriate plea agreement,” according to court records.
He also waived his right to a speedy trial.
In this latest request filed by Lamb on Oct. 25, Hightman cited the previous reason in addition to new search warrants executed by the Gillette Police Department and FBI that led to an eight-hour search of his residence on Oct. 13. This was the second time police searched Hightman’s home in relation to Gakwa’s disappearance.
No additional updates have been released by police regarding the search, which involved three teams of cadaver dogs and multiple boxes being removed from the premises.
Lamb also cited in the court document “intense public scrutiny regarding the defendant and the disappearance of the alleged victim” that “continues to draw national, and, to an extent, international media attention.”
Multiple media outlets, including CNN, NewsNation and People magazine, have picked up on Gakwa’s story and interviewed Gillette resident Stacy Koester, who has led multiple group and daily searches for Gakwa.
On Oct. 27, Koester will host an event at 6 p.m. at The Local, a coffee shop in downtown Gillette, where members of the community are invited to share their stories about Gakwa and learn more about the searches. The next community search will take place on Nov.12 and include a group of bloodhound handlers and volunteers from Colorado.
Koester also has launched a reward fund leading to information that results in an arrest or finding Gakwa. As of Wednesday, the reward money had reached $12,000.
Lamb asked for additional time to prepare for the pretrial conference and jury trial, stating a lack of objection for the request from Nathan Henkes, chief deputy county and prosecuting attorney.
The Wyoming Truth reached out to Lamb for comment, but he did not return the call.
If Hightman is found guilty, each crime carries a penalty of between three to 10 years in prison, a fine of no more than $10,000 or both.