Printed on: October 31, 2013

Pair pleads guilty in I.F. man's killing

By RUTH BROWN
rbrown@postregister.com

The two men who beat an Idaho Falls man to death seven years ago in Wyoming pleaded guilty Tuesday to involuntary manslaughter and aiding and abetting.

Brothers Vernon Brown, 54, and Alan Brown, 61, killed 47-year-old Tad Barnson on or about May 6, 2006. Barnson died of blunt force trauma and penetrating wounds. He was reported missing in 2006 but was not found until March 10, when hikers spotted his remains about 3 miles east of Riverton, Wyo.

The court did not officially accept the pleas, but U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl will make that decision when the Browns are sentenced.

Federal prosecutors dismissed the original first-degree murder charges against the brothers, who live on the Wind River Indian Reservation, due to lack of jurisdiction.

The dismissal came after prosecutors learned that the area Barnson is believed to have died in is not on the reservation. Numerous police documents and testimony had told prosecutors it was on the reservation.

If the killing did not occur on the reservation, state court -- not federal -- would have jurisdiction, according to court documents.

However, federal court did have jurisdiction over the involuntary manslaughter and aiding and abetting charge, as well as the kidnapping and aiding and abetting charge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kerry Jacobson said the men also waived the statute of limitations that normally would prevent prosecutors from charging them with involuntary manslaughter.

Federal prosecutors also had jurisdiction over the manslaughter charge because it was committed during a kidnapping that began on reservation land, according to court documents.

The kidnapping and aiding and abetting charge was dismissed as a part of the men's plea agreement. The agreement also stipulates that state court officials will not pursue any further charges in the case.

According to court minutes, Alan Brown told the court he does not remember the events on the night of Barnson's death because he was intoxicated. Prosecutors presented him with the allegations and he did not dispute the statements.

Vernon Brown also told the court he does not remember the events on the night of Barnson's death but said he had no reason to dispute the facts the prosecution alleged, according to court minutes.

Involuntary manslaughter and aiding and abetting is punishable by up to up to eight years in prison. The first-degree murder and aiding and abetting charge and kidnapping and aiding and abetting charge would have been punishable by up to life in prison or death.

Tad Barnson's mother, La Rita Barnson, does not approve of the plea agreement.

"Eight years doesn't cover the loss of my son," she said Wednesday.

Both men remained in custody Wednesday without bond.

Alan Brown is set for sentencing at 10 a.m. Jan. 9. Vernon Brown is set for sentencing at 11 a.m. Jan. 9.

Brown can be followed on Twitter @IFPost_Brown.