- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A Sheridan man facing felony charges in connection with the arson that damaged the Sheridan County Attorney’s Office last summer is asking a judge to suppress statements he made to a jail informant.

Joel S. Elliott is set for trial Oct. 5 before U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper.

Skavdahl has set a hearing for next Wednesday to consider pending issues, including Elliott’s request to suppress what prosecutors say are incriminating statements he made early this year.

Elliott, 37, was facing prosecution by the Sheridan County Attorney’s Office on a state forgery charge when its building was damaged in the arson.

Sheridan County and Prosecuting Attorney Matt Redle declined comment this week on how the arson affected the operation of the office.

Elliott was sentenced in state court to serve up to 10 years in prison on charges of felony stalking and burglary, the Sheridan Press reported in March. In a separate case, he was sentenced to three years’ probation on the forgery charge, the paper reported.

Attempts to reach defense lawyer Keith R. Nachbar of Casper this week were unsuccessful.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne declined comment on the case.

According to papers filed in court, investigators with the Sheridan Police Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives retained an informant to wear a recording device while discussing the arson with Elliott in January at the local jail.

Nachbar last week filed a written request with Skavdahl to suppress statements that Elliott made to the informant. Nachbar’s memo spelling out why he believes the statements should be suppressed is a sealed court record.

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stu Healy filed a response on Friday opposing Nachbar’s request to suppress the statements. In it, Healy specifies that Nachbar had argued that it would violate Elliott’s constitutional rights against self-incrimination and his right to be represented by legal counsel to use the statements his client made to the informant.

Healy argues that it didn’t violate Elliott’s rights to have the informant speak to him about the arson and record his comments.

Healy states that during the informant’s recorded conversations with Elliott, he made several admissions, including giving details not known by the public about the destructive device used to set the fire.

Healy states that Elliott told the informant that his fingerprints would not be on the timing device because he “wore rubber gloves the whole time.” Elliott also stated that he set the fire to “buy time” on the case pending against him with the Sheridan County Attorney’s Office, Healy stated.

Healy filed notice with Skavdahl this week that he intends to present evidence of Elliott’s criminal history at trial, saying it would be essential to a full understanding of the facts surrounding the fire.

In addition to the arrest on forgery charges, Healy said he intends to present information at trial of Elliott’s stalking of a local woman and his “attempt to frame another individual for the arson.”

Other pending pre-trial motions include Elliott’s claim that he shouldn’t be charged with using a firearm in a crime of violence. The defense claims that the crime of arson doesn’t meet the required definition of a violent crime to support the other charge.

Prosecutors are characterizing the device that triggered the fire as a firearm under federal law. Court records state that the device consisted of an electric timer that triggered a model rocket engine and a tube holding explosive. The device ignited gasoline that had been poured in the building.

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