CEDAR CITY – A St. George man accused of an early morning armed robbery at a Cedar City Texaco the day after Christmas last year received yet another delay in proceeding towards trial Wednesday when his preliminary hearing was continued to July 29 with the court noting there have been issues with his competency evaluations. Two others accused in the robbery have each pleaded guilty to lesser charges in their own plea deals, although one is now appealing that plea conviction. All three are in jail in Iron County.
For Lindsy Hold, the Texaco cashier and only person in the store the morning of the robbery, the three cases can’t be finished fast enough.
“This case has dragged on and on for months,” Hold said after McNeal-Sandoval’s preliminary hearing was rescheduled yet again Wednesday.
Hold said the stress and anxiety from being robbed at knife-point was more than she could bear. Terrified to continue working the graveyard shift, she said, she quit her job.
“I can’t wait to get this over with,” Hold said. “I feel like everything is taking its time, but I guess (the prosecution) has sufficient evidence, though, so it is going as fast as it needs to.”
Louis Eleuterio McNeal-Sandoval and Victoria Elizabeth Fanton, both of St. George, and Benjamin Michael Wulfenstein of Elko, Nevada, were arrested on Dec. 28, 2014, in connection with the incident and charged with first-degree felony aggravated robbery and class B misdemeanor theft.
McNeal-Sandoval – pending
In January McNeal-Sandoval’s case was reviewed and a competency evaluation ordered. Over the succeeding months, review hearings were rescheduled a number of times for various reasons pertaining to reports and ultimately to allow for a second evaluation.
In April, McNeal-Sandoval’s appointed counsel James Park argued the two evaluations were in conflict and requested a third psychiatric examination of his client, which the court granted.
In June, the court found McNeal-Sandoval competent to stand trial, without objection from the prosecution or McNeal-Sandoval’s defense counsel and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for July 1. That hearing was rescheduled three times and is now set for July 29.
The July 15 minute order of 5th District Judge John J. Walton states:
The defendant has been incarcerated for some time. There have been some issues with his comptency (sic) evaluations. The motion (for continuance) is granted.
If the preliminary hearing proceeds as scheduled, the court will decide on July 29 if probable cause exists for the case to procceed to arraignment and trial.
Fanton – sentenced per plea agreement, now on appeal
Fanton entered a plea agreement in January, pleading to a lesser charge of second-degree felony robbery, with the original charges dismissed.
She later recanted her guilty plea in a letter to District Judge Keith Barnes stating it was coerced, arguing a variety of things including that she is a mother of tw0, a 12-year drug addict with outstanding warrants, that her attorney Jeffery Slack failed to disclose her physical and mental conditions, among other things.
“I would like to change my plead (sic) to not guilty,” she wrote in her letter signed Victoria E. Fanton Olsen. “I was force (sic) to plead guilty to something I was innocent to. I would like to take it to trial.”
In the alternative, Fanton asked the judge for any of: weekend sentencing, transfer to Salt Lake City or Washington County’s Purgatory correctional facilities, and release to undergo rehab.
In her letter, Fanton said she is both physically and mentally disabled, listing a number of ailments, including chronic post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity and bipolar disorders as well as chronic asthma, stomach ulcers and nerve damage – all of which require physician support, she said.
On May 12, Barnes denied Fanton’s request to be released from custody for treatment. On May 26, District Judge John Walton denied her request to withdraw her plea, which had been made voluntarily, he said, and her motion to withdraw the plea was not timely made.
Fanton is appealing her case to the Utah Court of Appeals.
Wulfenstein – sentencing pending per plea agreement
At a January 7 preliminary/bail hearing, according to the court’s minute order, Wulfenstein had recently had surgery on his “food” (sic) and was in need of psychiatric medication he had not been receiving while in jail. A number of hearings were scheduled and rescheduled as Wulfenstein proposed to engage new counsel.
On April 29, without new defense counsel, a preliminary hearing was finally held during which the prosecution presented testimony from Detective Dustin Orton, before resting. The prosecution also submitted affidavits from Fanton, Hold and Kenny Kanosh which the court reviewed and returned. The court found probable cause for the case against Wulfenstein to proceed and he was arraigned on May 5 with jury trial set for July 10.
However, at a status conference June 30, District Judge Keith Barnes vacated the jury trial considering co-defendant McNeal-Sandoval’s preliminary hearing had yet to be held and might have some bearing on Wulfenstein’s case.
On July 14, the court accepted a plea agreement from Wulfenstein in which he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree felony robbery, with the original charges to be dismissed. He is scheduled for sentencing Aug. 25.
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