Accused Child Molester Testifies in Casper Trial; Defense Rests
The former carnival worker who allegedly kidnapped and sexually abused a five-year-old boy on the bank of the North Platte River last summer took the witness stand Thursday morning to tell his side of the story.
Joshua Ashby Winters, 34, told jurors he was at Galloway's and El Mark-O Lanes on the afternoon of July 18, where he had been drinking, bowling and playing video games. At some point, his money went missing.
Winters said he had been playing arcade games with a few young boys, letting them "piggyback" off of his unfinished games when it was Winters' turn to bowl with fellow carnival workers. He had quit the carnival earlier in the day, and said he intended to catch a ride to Colorado where he would board a bus for Ohio.
Winters told jurors he asked around everyone at the bowling alley about his missing money, and the kids helped him look. At some point, Winters claims, one of the children -- the alleged victim -- told Winters the boy's brother had taken his money.
The boy reportedly led Winters to the river in search of his money. Winters said he was sitting on a rock or a guardrail, texting, when he heard the boy fall into the water.
"I droped my phone and wallet and I jumped in," Winters said, adding that he hit his head on something as he entered the river.
He wasn't able to get to the boy right away, he said, and was about halfway into the river by the time he could get one arm around the boy's waist and start paddling with the other hand.
Winters, who says he was drunk at the time, wasn't sure which bank the pair ended up on when they made it out of the water. He got the boy out of the water first, he told jurors, and went five or 10 feet further downstream before he could pull himself out.
There, he saw a woman -- Kelli Brodrecht, who testified on Monday -- across the river with a phone in her hand. Brodrecht told the jury she asked Winters if he wanted her to call for help, but Winters waved her off and said things were fine.
Winters, however, said he assumed she was calling for help. He claims Brodrecht put the phone to hear multiple times, though he doesn't remember specifically asking her to get help.
By then, Winters said, the boy had made his way into the woods. Winters claims to have told the boy to go on ahead, and that Winters would catch up. He said he had to go to the bathroom.
That's the last thing Winters remembered, he said, before passing out.
Robert Oldham, Winters' public defender, asked Winters whether he had sexually abused the boy. Winters denied any sort of abuse.
"It's not very hard to remember whether you did something like that," Winters told the jury.
Winters said he woke up about 20 seconds after passing out and caught up to the victim on the bridge, where Wyoming Boulevard crosses the Platte not far from the water treatment plant.
The pair walked down the street past the water treatment plant, with Winters taking the boy to a pawn shop where Winters claimed to have left his bags. That could explain a picture taken at 7:42 p.m. by a surveillance camera outside the plant, which shows Winters walking south across the entrance road with the boy trailing several feet behind, walking the same direction.
But, Winters said, they arrived at the pawn shop and found his bags weren't there -- police later found the bags hidden near the north gate of the fairgrounds.
So, Winters left the boy in the pawn shop parking lot while he went back to retrieve his phone and wallet.
That's how Winters explains additional pictures taken at 7:54 p.m., which show him jogging alone back north along Wyoming Boulevard. In those photos, Winters is not wearing the hat or shirt he had on in the first picture, taken some 12 minutes earlier.
Assistant District Attorney Brett Johnson, in cross-examining Winters, asked whether he removed his hat and shirt in order to change his appearance after abandoning the boy. Winters said he took his shirt off so he could "run without getting sweaty."
The hat was later found by police, on the other side of a snow fence just a few feet from where the boy was found alone and crying on the evening of July 18.
Winters told jurors he retrieved his phone and wallet and returned to the pawn shop where he told the boy to wait. To his surprise, the boy was gone when Winters got back.
"I thought maybe he'd been given a ride from the guy at the pawn shop," Winters told the jury.
Winters then said he fell asleep someplace, perhaps at the dog park. He told jurors he stayed in Casper rather than leave town, because he "didn't have anything to hide."
Johnson asked Winters why he would walk to the river at the direction of a child he'd never met before.
"Because he knew where he was going, Winters replied.
Johnson then asked why he followed the boy to the river instead of going to his house and speaking with the boy's mother about the missing money.
"Because I don't follow children to their homes," Winters answered.
Johnson also inquired as to whether Winters held the boy's hand as they crossed streets.
"You don't let a five-year-old walk across a street by themselves," Winters said.
Johnson played video of Winters' interview with detectives in the morning hours of July 19 and undated jail phone calls Winters made to an unidentified individual.
In the video, Winters told detectives he didn't hold the boy's hand at any point, even when they crossed streets. He said the boy followed five or 10 feet behind him, saying it was not appropriate to, "grab some little kids' hand that you don't know."
Winters told the jury he was disoriented and still intoxicated during that interview, and he didn't remember saying anything about holding or not holding the boy's hand.
In the jail phone call, Winters said the boy followed him as he left the bowling alley. Winters told the person on the other end of the call that he didn't realize the boy was behind him until later.
"He wanted to come back with me to the f------ fairgrounds," Winters is heard saying. "He took that as if he followed me, I was going to show him my campground."
"It's just a big f------ mess," Winters said on the recording.
Winters began his testimony Thursday by telling Oldham about the sexual abuse he reportedly suffered as a child, explaining that his biological father raped him when he was eight months old.
Winters underwent several surgeries and was adopted after being released from the hospital. He told the jury he later suffered other sexual abuse by an adopted brother and foster child.
Oldham also asked Winters about his sexual abuse of his adopted sister and nephew in 1997, when Winters was 15.
"I wasn't sure about my sexuality," Winters said through tears. "I wasn't sure I was normal."
Oldham rested the defense's case at roughly 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
Johnson called one rebuttal witness -- the bartender who served Winters at Galloway's Pub on July 18. She testified that she did not observe Winters to be visibly intoxicated before her shift ended at 4 p.m.
After Johnson rested, Natrona County District Court Judge Thomas Sullins dismissed the jury and held an informal meeting with counsel to go over jury instructions.
Sullins will deliver instructions to the jury at 2 p.m. before Johnson and Oldham make their closing arguments and the case goes to the jury for deliberation.
Shortly after Winters began his testimony Thursday morning, court adjourned so a juror could take a break.
After Sullins spoke with counsel, the juror -- who suffered an undisclosed illness and wasn't feeling well -- was excused, narrowing the jury to seven women and five men.