CASPER, Wyo. – CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a Cheyenne man to serve 21 years in prison for his role in providing the heroin that killed a professional bull rider and a young mother last year.
Joel Murdoch, 22, pleaded guilty in February to conspiring to distribute the drugs that killed Cheyenne bull rider Bryan Guthrie, 21, in December and Valarie Anne Sena, 20, last summer. Murdoch also pleaded guilty to distribution of the drugs in Guthrie's death.
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association had ranked Guthrie as high as third in bull riding early last year before he was knocked out of competition with a leg injury in March 2009. He was the 2003 national junior bull riding champion.
Both the prosecution and defense asked U.S. District Judge William Downes to sentence Murdoch to 20 years in prison, the minimum allowed under federal sentencing guidelines. But the judge refused, saying Murdoch's crimes didn't warrant a minimum sentence.
Downes said he recognized Murdoch wouldn't have committed his crimes if he weren't addicted to drugs. But he said the defendant was a "key ingredient" in the death of an innocent man.
"(Guthrie) wanted to quit," the judge said. "But you supplied him."
Murdoch apologized at sentencing to Guthrie's parents and sister and said he deserved to go to prison.
"Please know Bryan was my best friend and I miss him and think about him every day," Murdoch said.
But before Downes imposed the sentence, Guthrie's mother, Patty, told the judge that she doubted Murdoch was sincerely remorseful. She said he had called her shortly after her son's death looking for drugs he had stashed in her house.
"I know one thing ... if Joel Murdoch had not been in Bryan's life, he would not have died of a heroin and cocaine overdose," she said.
Kyle Murdoch, the defendant's father, told Downes that he and his wife raised their sons on a ranch in Burns and tried to instill the value of hard work in them.
"Looking back, it's probably clear we gave our sons too much leeway," he said.
Murdoch's attorney, Thomas Fleener, said Joel Murdoch's drug abuse began with the painkillers Percocet and OxyContin and graduated to heroin. He said the case highlighted the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
Prosecutors say Murdoch and two Cheyenne men, Kyle Walla and Christopher Tyson, purchased heroin in Denver the day before Guthrie's death. When they returned to Cheyenne, Murdoch, Walla, Guthrie and a confidential source used the drug. The confidential source found Guthrie's body the next morning.
Walla and another Cheyenne man, Rhett Epler, both pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges connected to Guthrie's death. Walla and Epler are scheduled to be sentenced in August in Casper.
Tyson and two other men are scheduled to be tried this fall on federal charges connected to the drug-related deaths of Guthrie, Sena and another man who died of a heroin overdose last June.
Information from: Casper Star-Tribune - Casper, http://www.trib.com