Kenneth Stone faces a minimum of 10 years in prison after a jury found him guilty late Thursday night of aggravated assault and battery with a deadly weapon and causing serious bodily injury.
Friday morning county prosecuting attorney Jack Hatfield and defense attorney Nick Beduhn agreed on a number of conditions that will effect sentencing in a couple of months. One of those conditions was in allowing Stone to admit to only two prior felonies, which allows him to avoid a possible life sentence and instead face 10-50 years, with the chance to reduce his sentence only by good behavior.
“We don’t want to put him in prison for life,” Hatfield said Friday. “Just because we could do something doesn’t mean we want to do. This was also based on the wishes of the victims. They’ll have the opportunity at sentencing in a few months to provide victim impact statements.”
The attorneys also agreed that Stone would be brought into custody immediately at the Park County Detention center until his sentencing, that his sentence would not be able to be suspended by Judge Bobbie Overfield and that the $250,000 bond he provided would be used to pay for any restitution determined at sentencing, as well as the prosecution’s costs.
“Those two terms were hard and fast, nonnegotiable,” Hatfield said. “The victims were going to get their restitution, and any allowable costs would go back to the taxpayers.”
The jury came to a unanimous decision after roughly 2 1/2 hours. The question was sent to the jurors at roughly 6:20 p.m. and just before 9 p.m. they reconvened for the verdict after most of a week’s worth of testimony from witnesses, experts and Stone himself.
The trial was just the latest in a long line of court proceedings following an Oct. 6, 2020 wreck that occurred along the North Fork Highway. Stone, driving his Ford Ranger, was seen on video driving in the wrong lane before slamming into driver Aaron Zellner, his girlfriend and two family members driving a rented Dodge Charger while on vacation.
Stone took the stand Thursday afternoon as the final witness and recounted what he remembered of the incident, which he said wasn’t much as his few memories were foggy. He admitted to having had drinks the night before and having also taken his sleeping pill, but said he had little recollection of the events of the day that followed.
Then, county prosecuting attorney Jack Hatfield and defense attorney Nick Beduhn delivered lengthy closing statements Thursday night and agreed the incident did happen as described and did result in injuries to Stone and the group of people in the other vehicle in the North Fork accident.
What they disagreed on was whether Stone knowingly drove impaired, which resulted in the serious crash.
Hatfield maintained that Stone, having taken the prescription drugs zolpidem (Ambien) and hydrocodone for years, knew that also taking alcohol with them could cause issues, and thus knowingly drove impaired when leaving his cabin around 9 a.m. in the morning to go to a 10 a.m. dentist appointment in Cody. Hatfield questioned how Stone could have been having an episode and been “out of it” if he had the presence of mind to remember his dentist appointment and to tell Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Pence he had only two drinks. Stone told the court Thursday he had actually had more than that.
“This crime began when he chose to consume alcohol, take Ambien and hydrocodone with each other and drive,” Hatfield said. “He is responsible for his actions. If his judgment is impaired, he is still liable for what he did.”
Beduhn countered in his closing statement that Stone had no intention of impairing himself and instead suffered an Ambien episode, which led to him unknowingly getting into his car the next morning and driving, leading to the North Fork crash that injured members of the Zellner family. He questioned the state describing the incident as “almost a DUI crash” when he said there was no intent for Stone to be impaired, and said he worried about what would happen if all crashes could become assault if a driver had prescription drugs in his or her system.
“Throughout the course of this case, it’s been an unfortunate and violent accident with victims all around,” Beduhn said. “This was an Ambien induced episode.”
Wednesday afternoon update:
The trial of Kenneth Stone resumed on Wednesday afternoon with testimony from an Indianapolis forensics analyst who studied Stone’s blood. That analyst said the hydrocodone and zolpidem found in Stone’s system was at normal therapeutic levels. Stone had a prescription for these medications.
Stone’s blood was taken about three hours after the accident. His blood alcohol content was measured at .02%. According to the analyst, alcohol oxidizes at a rate of .01-.025% per hour.
Stone’s attorney Nick Beduhn brought up how zolpidem can cause types of sleep walking, sometimes referred to as retrograde amnesia. The analyst confirmed this possibility.
Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Lee Pence was briefly called back to the stand and said Stone had admitted to drinking until midnight the previous evening, and that another paramedic agreed the defendant seemed impaired at the scene of the accident.
Stone’s wife Annette Stone took the stand last. She spoke of her husband’s long term medical issues, causing the couple to attend “hundreds” of doctor’s appointments since 2015. Annette Stone said at no point were they told by any medical practitioner her husband was to refrain from taking zolpidem and hydrocodone together or with alcohol.
“We always told them (doctors) everything he was taking to be safe,” she said.
Original story 9through Wednesday morning):
For Aaron Zellner, the car wreck he was in with Kenneth Stone in the fall of 2020 was an event he’ll likely never forget.
“I very vividly remember it,” Zellner said of the point of impact. “Painful guttural sounds, as what I can only describe as death.”
The first full day of the Stone jury trial on Tuesday at the Park County Courthouse featured testimony from four individuals who were in the vehicle involved in the collision with Stone. Each said they have some form of life-altering harm from the incident.
Stephanie Zellner, Aaron’s stepmother, was most seriously injured in the accident, breaking her neck, back, sternum, multiple ribs and experienced internal bleeding. She was life-flighted to Billings from the accident scene.
Aaron Zellner, who was driving the 2020 Dodge Charger rental car involved in the wreck, said he has had to receive therapy to cope with the post traumatic stress disorder he developed as a result of the crash, hampering his ability to drive the busy roads around his home of Cincinnati.
David Zellner, Aaron’s father, was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of impact. He suffered a broken wrist and broken shoulder.
Stone is charged with aggravated assault and battery with a deadly weapon and causing serious bodily injury while driving under the influence of alcohol in the wreck that injured four people.
The felony carries a jail term of up to 20 years, but the prosecution is pushing for a life sentence because of prior felonies. Stone has been charged with three other felonies since 1994.
Scene of the crash
More details emerged regarding the Oct. 6, 2020 accident that occurred along the North Fork Highway. Aaron Zellner and his girlfriend Katie Daprile, who was riding in the front passenger seat during the crash, said when they rounded a corner on US 14-16-20 West about 11 miles east of Yellowstone National Park they first caught sight of Stone’s 1997 Ford Ranger.
It was almost immediately after that they realized Stone was driving in their westbound lane headed eastbound. The Zellners had taped a cell phone to their car’s front dash that morning to get video of the sights, and it was actively recording throughout the whole crash. Video from this cell phone showed that Stone was in the wrong lane leading up to the crash.
There were only a few seconds on the 50 mph highway stretch where the family had to react.
“I said something to the effect of, ‘what the heck is this guy doing?’” Aaron Zellner recalled.
Aaron Zellner said he honked and started braking but it did nothing to change Stone’s course of direction until the final few feet before the crash when he did start moving back into the right lane. Unfortunately by this point, Aaron Zellner started moving into the eastbound lane in an attempt to avoid a crash. By the time they met they were each around the center line.
“It looked like they were trying to avoid a crash,” Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Lee Pence said.
Pence said there were no skid marks left from either party at the scene, which he described as “highly unusual.”
When authorities drew a sample of Stone’s blood about three hours after the crash, results only showed a .02% blood alcohol concentration level, far below the legal limit. But, Pence said in the initial charging affidavit, this blood alcohol level would have been “much higher” had the blood been drawn closer to the crash. Further, Connor Notman, a paramedic who treated Stone about an hour after the crash, noted he smelled alcohol on his breath.
The blood testing also showed the presence of hydrocodone and zolpidem, also known as the sleeping medication Ambien. Both of these medications are not supposed to be taken in conjunction with alcohol.
“Zolpidem, especially in the combination of alcohol, is significant,” Pence said.
Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Blain Mollett said Stone was in a “trance” following the crash, unable to respond to commands in an effective manner. Notman reported Stone asking questions repeatedly and being unable to follow basic commands while transporting him to Cody Regional Hospital. Nick Beduhn, Stone’s attorney, started laying the foundation for an argument that these symptoms were due to a concussion, not the intoxication the state was attempting to allude to him being under.
“Wouldn’t it be possible to have a concussion after an event like this?” Beduhn questioned Pence, to which he affirmed.
At no point in the trial did Beduhn initiate extended questioning of any other witness.
Stone also suffered serious injuries during the accident including a dislocated hip and abrasions to his face, likely resulting from the airbags that deployed in his vehicle. There was no further evidence of an impact that could have caused a concussion.
On Wednesday morning, two forensic analysts with the Wyoming State Crime Lab took the witness stand. Forensic Analyst Rachel Chavez said although the state lab can detect for the presence of opiates in a blood sample, it does not possess the technological capability to determine the quantity or when they were ingested. These results were determined by a third-party lab based out of Indianapolis.
The trial is moving much quicker than many anticipated, with a recess held for most of Tuesday afternoon due to witnesses not yet arriving in Cody. With the state’s third witness not arriving at Yellowstone Regional Airport until early afternoon Wednesday, another extended recess was held late Wednesday morning.
Check codyenterprise.com for updates.