A Powell woman has been sentenced to three years of supervised probation for committing a string of burglaries in 2017, while on probation for a meth-related offense.
Prosecutors and Valorie Lamb-Harlan’s probation agent had recommended that the 45-year-old be sent to prison. But Lamb-Harlan’s apparent turnaround after she completed a drug treatment program last year persuaded District Court Judge Bobbi Overfield to give the defendant an opportunity to prove that she’s changed.
“I can pretty much guarantee you with this sentence that you’re going to be under some pretty strict scrutiny for the next three years,” Overfield warned Lamb-Harlan. “And if there are violations of the terms and conditions of this probation, … the state most likely won’t hesitate to bring you back before this court — and most likely, this court won’t hesitate to impose a sentence accordingly.”
Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Leda Pojman argued for a nine- to 10-year prison sentence, but Overfield instead suspended eight to 10 years of prison time, which the judge could impose if Lamb-Harlan makes a misstep on probation.
During the two years that her cases were pending in Park County’s court system, Lamb-Harlan served roughly a year and two months in jail.
She tearfully apologized for her actions at Friday’s hearing.
“I know I have been, like, out of control because of drugs and not being on medications and stuff,” Lamb-Harlan said.
She suffers from mental health problems, including bipolar type schizoaffective disorder and lives off of disability benefits; Lamb-Harlan says she doesn’t remember any of her crimes, which a therapist suggested could be due to using methamphetamine along with her prescribed, psychotropic medications.
As part of a deal with the Park County Attorney’s Office, Lamb-Harlan pleaded no contest to four felony counts of burglary on Friday — three counts related to break-ins at Powell car washes and the fourth related to a break-in at a residence on Dutcher Springs Trail west of Ralston. The incidents took place between April 5-7, 2017.
Thanks to a surveillance system and an alert homeowner, the Park County Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming Highway Patrol caught Lamb-Harlan red-handed. They found her inside the Dutcher Springs Trail home with items stolen from the residence — including a handgun — and other locations, including various car washes.
Cody police had compiled another six reports on Lamb-Harlan, but the county attorney’s office agreed not to pursue them as part of the deal. No details about those Cody cases were disclosed at Friday’s hearing, but prosecutor Pojman described them as being “similar in nature” to the other burglaries; the Park County Sheriff’s Office previously said Lamb-Harlan was a suspect in additional break-ins at Cody car washes, along with a laundromat and vehicles.
At the time, Lamb-Harlan was already on felony supervised probation for helping a former boyfriend make small batches of methamphetamine in the summer of 2015 (specifically by purchasing cold medication). Prosecutors agreed not to revoke her probation in that case as part of the plea bargain.
In total, Friday’s court hearing resolved 11 pending criminal cases or investigations against Lamb-Harlan. Last week’s sentence had the net effect of extending her previous probation by one year.
Lamb-Harlan told the judge that, after serving more than a year in jail and completing treatment, she’s determined to “stay on the right path.”
But Pojman noted that Lamb-Harlan has previously undergone treatment and counseling.
“It didn’t do anything,” Pojman argued. “These crimes were still committed and you don’t get a free pass two years later. That doesn’t make up for what you did.”
She also pointed out that, after Lamb-Harlan’s arrest and subsequent release on bond on the burglary charges in 2017, she had violated her bond conditions by using meth again.
Pojman argued there was nothing more that authorities could do other than to send Lamb-Harlan to prison. That echoed the opinion of Lamb-Harlan’s probation agent, expressed in a pre-sentence investigation report.
“Community supervision is not going to be able to provide the defendant with the help or resources she needs,” Probation Agent Stacey Sapp wrote of Lamb-Harlan last year. “She also poses a safety risk to the community.”
However, Lamb-Harlan’s court-appointed defense attorney, Richard Hopkinson, stressed that the report was written before his client completed the roughly three-month treatment program.
Drawing on testimony from Lamb-Harlan’s mother — and a clean record since she completed treatment in October — Hopkinson said there’s been a significant change in Lamb-Harlan’s lifestyle. He also argued that prison time would do no good, while costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“In my years of doing these cases, I’ve never seen ... where somebody’s been sent to the prison for basically drug problems [and] they came back cured,” Hopkinson said. “They came back with those same issues.”
In contrast, the Worland attorney said he’s seen a great deal of success with people who complete programs like the VOA and go on to change their lives.
“... This is exactly what Ms. Lamb-Harlan has done, in spite of the many disabilities that she has,” Hopkinson said.
Among various terms of probation, Judge Overfield ordered Lamb-Harlan to obey the law and her probation officer, to take her medications as prescribed and to either get a part-time job or complete 100 hours of community service.
The judge also ordered Lamb-Harlan to pay $815 in court fees, $2,292 in restitution for damage she caused at Coulter Car Care, Lil Spark Car Wash and Rocky Mountain Car Wash and hundreds of dollars for Hopkinson’s services.
Lamb-Harlan must pay at least $150 a month toward those obligations.
“Payment of restitution is only a slight beginning of most likely what they [the car washes] had to deal with in re-securing their businesses and ... to protect themselves going forward,” Overfield said.
The judge concluded by telling Lamb-Harlan that “this is your opportunity, hopefully, to prove to everyone that you have addressed the underlying concerns that brought you before this court nearly two years ago now and [that] you’ve made the steps necessary ... to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”