- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The Wyoming Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a Laramie man’s attempted rape conviction in a cold case dating from 1972.

A jury last year acquitted Lance David Bean of Laramie of charges of rape and murder in the death of 20-year-old Sharon Reher. Jurors convicted Bean of attempted rape and a judge sentenced him to five years of probation.

Prosecutors said Bean was at a party at Reher’s Laramie residence the night before she was found dead from a stab wound. Investigators testified during Bean’s trial that recent testing showed DNA from Bean’s skin on Reher’s clothing.

Bean appealed his conviction to the Wyoming Supreme Court. His lawyer Galen Woelk argued on appeal there was no proof Bean was involved in any crimes.

“We’re disappointed,” Woelk said Thursday.

Woelk said the case highlights a legal issue of growing national importance: that criminal defendants can be convicted only on “touch DNA evidence,” meaning the few cells that may be left behind when a person touches an object.

Investigators talked to Bean and others who had attended Reher’s party during their initial investigation. Woelk said the recent discovery of Bean’s DNA only confirmed what investigators already knew, that Bean had been present in the victim’s home.

Woelk said the state Supreme Court ruling showed the court was not willing to undertake an analysis of whether the presence of “touch DNA” alone is sufficient support a conviction, particularly when the defendant had an innocent explanation for having been at the crime scene previously. “That’s the underlying concern and disappointment with the case,” he said.

Woelk said the jury in Bean’s case had been instructed that they had to find that Reher was in imminent fear of being raped by Bean to find him guilty of the attempted rape charge. However, Woelk said the jury reached its guilty verdict despite a complete lack of such evidence.

The Wyoming attorney general’s office argued in favor of upholding Bean’s conviction. Attorney General Peter Michael said Thursday the jury was entitled to rely on circumstantial evidence in finding Bean guilty.

“A lesson we learn frequently in the criminal practice is that we let juries use their sense based on what they know about the facts they have to draw inferences,” Michael told The Associated Press. “That’s as it should be. It works sometimes against the prosecution, sometimes in favor. It depends on the case.”

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