Wyoming News Update

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Gillette man charged with killing 2, cutting up bodies

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) — A 37-year-old Gillette man is charged with killing two people, cutting up their bodies with a saw and storing them in his vehicle.

The Gillette News Record reports Michael Montano made his initial appearance in Circuit Court on Tuesday on two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of 33-year-old Phillip Brewer and 38-year-old Jody Fortuna. Montano also is charged with two counts of mutilation of dead human bodies.

He did not enter a plea. His bail was set at $2.5 million cash. Prosecutors did not indicate a motive.

Campbell County deputies say a woman reported Saturday that she saw Brewer's body in the back of Montano's pickup truck the night before. Another man told investigators that Montano said he cut up the bodies with a saw in his bathtub.

Appeals court: Roundup not required for overpopulated horses

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A federal appeals court has ruled against Wyoming officials who sought to require the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to round up wild horses from overpopulated herds.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Tuesday upheld a ruling that federal law doesn't mandate roundup of overpopulated wild horses that compete with cattle for forage.

Wild horse advocacy groups, including the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, praised the decision. The groups' attorney, Bill Eubanks, calls it an important new precedent for wild-horse management.

Wild horse numbers exceed federal population goals in several areas across the region. Wyoming sued in 2014, saying allowing too many horses can damage rangelands.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead says he is disappointed and has asked Attorney General Peter Michael to review the state's options.

Beartooth Pass closes for season

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Beartooth Pass on the Montana-Wyoming border has closed for the winter.

The Billings Gazette reports that the closure of U.S. Highway 212 between Red Lodge and Cooke City was announced Tuesday. The road will be gated near the Greenough Lake turnoff.

The highway typically reopens the Friday before Memorial Day.

The road has closed several times in the past month due to snow and ice.

Sentencing set for man charged in 2010 Hitching Post fire

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Sentencing has been set for a New Jersey man who pleaded guilty to insurance fraud charges in connection with the 2010 arson of the landmark Hitching Post Inn.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that Falgun Dharia faces up to 20 years in prison when he's sentenced Nov. 17.

Dharia was a principal in CJM Hospitality LLC, which bought the Hitching Post at a bankruptcy proceeding. Prosecutors say the blaze was set to defraud an insurance company of $13 million.

Dharia has admitted to knowing about the arson when filing an insurance claim, but denies responsibility for the fire.

One of Dharia's business partners and two other men were sentenced to prison in 2013 for various crimes related to the blaze.

Dharia will be sentenced in New York.

Change to UW retirement plan to cost millions in benefits

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A change in the University of Wyoming's retirement plan will cut millions in employee health insurance benefits for future retirees.

The Casper Journal reports that the UW Board of Trustees in Junes moved to reduce the number of sick days an employee is allowed to accrue toward retirement from 960 to 480 and converted the payout to a one-time cash payment based on salary. Previously staff could bank unused sick days, which would then be applied toward payment of state health insurance premiums at retirement.

UW President Laurie Nichols says the old system was more than what other state employees received.

UW law professor Robert Sprague, of the Faculty Senate, says there was no notice that the benefit was being considered for elimination and no mention that the decision had been made.