Judge scraps plea deal in burglary cases

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A judge on Wednesday rejected a proposed plea agreement for a Powell woman facing a stack of criminal charges relating to a string of burglaries in 2017.

District Court Judge Robert Skar became frustrated after Valorie Lamb-Harlan had a last-minute change of heart, deciding she would rather plead “no contest” than guilty to four felony charges against her.

At Wednesday’s scheduled change of plea and sentencing hearing, Lamb-Harlan had already pleaded guilty to one count of burglary before her court-appointed defense attorney, Richard Hopkinson, told Judge Skar that his client wanted to plead no contest.

Hopkinson said his client only remembers waking up in jail.

“... She just informed me she does not recall doing this,” he told the judge.

Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Leda Pojman didn’t object to the change.

“If she wants to enter a no contest plea, that’s fine,” said Pojman, who was prepared to argue for a nine- to 10-year prison sentence for Lamb-Harlan.

The judge, however, took issue with the change.

“The court’s not going to accept a no contest plea, so we’re going to set this back for trial,” he said, indicating to the prosecution and Lamb-Harlan’s defense attorney that they should schedule four separate trials for the four cases.

“We’re not going to play games here,” Skar said before exiting the courtroom and ending the hearing.

Pleading no contest generally has the same legal effect as pleading guilty, though it’s slightly different. While pleading guilty is an explicit admission of guilt, pleading no contest is a statement that you don’t contest the allegations against you. No contest pleas also cannot be used against you in future court proceedings.

The four cases that will now be scheduled for trials relate to a series of break-ins and thefts from three Powell car washes and a Ralston area home in early April 2017.

Under the proposed plea deal, Lamb-Harlan would have pleaded guilty to four counts of burglary, with a half-dozen misdemeanor crimes connected to those cases dismissed.

Further, prosecutors agreed to not file any charges related to six Cody Police Department investigations from last year. Pojman did not elaborate on what allegations were involved in those cases. However, after Lamb-Harlan was arrested last year, a spokesman for the Park County Sheriff’s Office said she was a suspect in 11 vehicle burglaries in Cody and an attempted break-in at a car wash there.

She was arrested on April 7, 2017, in a home on Dutcher Springs Trail outside of Ralston. The Park County Sheriff’s Office says the homeowner was alerted to the break-in by his surveillance system, which allegedly captured images of Lamb-Harlan stealing guns from the residence.

The break-ins at the Lil Spark Car Wash, Coulter Car Care car wash and Rocky Mountain Car Wash in Powell reportedly occurred in the days leading up to her arrest.

Lamb-Harlan, 44, is currently on probation for assisting with a small-scale meth-making operation in 2015 and, as part of the proposed plea deal, prosecutors had agreed to not revoke that probation.

Lamb-Harlan has pleaded not guilty in the burglary cases, including not guilty by reason of mental illness. She was released from jail in early July to attend a drug treatment facility in Sheridan.

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