GREEN RIVER — A Third District Court jury acquitted Christopher David Nowland on three felony counts of sexual abuse of a minor this afternoon following a week-long trial.
The 36-year-old Reliance, WY, man had been charged with the crimes stemming from alleged incidents involving his then 13-year-old niece between July and August 2019.
The jury listened to three days of testimony and deliberated for about 3 1/2 hours before exonerating Nowland of the charges.
Key evidence presented by the state this week included a series of text messages and Snapchats between Nowland and the victim during the summer and fall of 2019.
Evidence shows the two engaged in conversations about sex and various parts of the female anatomy during their conversations. Those conversations were often started by the victim, and many of them appeared to be consensual.
The victim testified she and her younger sister spent time with Nowland and his wife on camping trips and in their home in Reliance during the summer of 2019. She alleged that all three incidents took place in the Nowland’s bed: twice while three other people and a dog were all in the bed, and once while she was alone taking a nap.
Deputy County Attorney John Olson read many of the digital correspondence into the record, several focusing on the discussions about sex and parts of the female anatomy.
Nowland took the stand in his own defense this week saying he was simply trying to provide some “normalcy” in the victim’s life. He noted her difficult upbringing and felt the need to provide a father figure to her.
Olson pointed out some of the explicit wording in the text messages and asked Nowland how that type of correspondence was normal between an adult male and teenage girl. Nowland described most of the messages as “a joke” and were not meant to be taken seriously.
During closing arguments, Deputy County Attorney Damon DeBernardi revisited the graphic nature of the text messages and said the state clearly met the burden of proof in the case.
However, defense attorney Eric Phillips argued that a lack of DNA evidence, inconsistent statements from the victim and other state’s witnesses during the investigation, and sloppy police work pointed to his client’s innocence.
There were no pictures taken of the Nowland’s home or bed, and a rape kit was not administered on the victim during the investigation. The case began in Lincoln County where the victim was living with her aunt in Afton. It was later moved to Sweetwater County where the Nowland’s were living and the alleged crimes took place.
First-degree felony abuse of a minor in Wyoming carries a maximum sentence of 50 years in the state penitentiary.