Shootout suspects facing life in prison

Four local teens, two adults charged in Wyoming

As teenagers, their lives had just begun. As defendants, they face spending the rest of their days behind bars.

"These guys are in a world of hurt," said Michael Blonigen, district attorney for the Seventh Judicial District in Natrona County, Wyo., of the penalties facing four Craig juveniles. "They've been charged as adults. What we have here is a very serious case."

On Thursday, Blonigen charged four Craig teenagers -- Daniel Merwin, 16, James Gore, 17, Steven Liljedahl, 15, and Johnathan Milligan, 16 -- with conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, armed robbery, concealing property and conspiracy to commit murder. Milligan is also charged with five additional counts of attempted murder.

Two adults -- Paul Martin Howell, 29, and Michael Garren, 19, also of Craig -- are charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, armed robbery, concealing property, conspiracy to commit murder and five counts of attempted murder.

It is Daily Press policy to not name juvenile suspects. Exceptions are sometimes made in cases of alleged violent crimes.

The charges stem from the six suspects allegedly robbing a bar in Casper and then trading gunfire while trying to evade police. Three of the juveniles -- Merwin, Gore and Liljedahl -- surrendered to police, but Garren, Howell and Milligan escaped.

The latter three were captured Thursday. All six are also suspected of burglarizing five Moffat County businesses from Nov. 20 to 29, stealing cellular telephones, a Dodge truck and weapons, the Moffat County Sheriff's Office reported.

Blonigen said the most severe charges the suspects face -- attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder -- carries a sentence of life in prison. The other charges carry penalties ranging from five to 25 years in prison.

The juveniles have the right to request the court to move their cases to juvenile court, Blonigen said. The district attorney said he would oppose such a request.

"We think adult court is the appropriate environment," he said.

Merwin, Gore and Liljedahl appeared in court Thursday. A judge ordered the juveniles to remain in custody at the Natrona County Detention Center on $500,000 bond.

Howell, Garren and Milligan appeared in court Friday. A judge ordered they be detained in the detention center and set cash only bonds of $500,000 for Milligan, $750,000 for Garren and $1 million for Howell.

Moffat County High School officials reported that none of the juveniles are enrolled with the high school this school year. They have been students in the past, principal Jane Krogman said.

Both Howell and Garren have prior convictions, according to Moffat and Routt county court records.

On June 21, Howell was sentenced in Routt County to spend five days in jail for false reporting. He has no priors in Moffat County, a court clerk said.

Garren has several convictions in Moffat County, all of which occurred this year. Court records revealed he has been convicted of two counts of reckless driving, criminal mischief, leaving the scene of an injury accident, two counts of careless driving and no insurance.

An affidavit filed in Natrona County indicates that Howell, Garren and Milligan all fired at police officers. It also states that those three, along with Liljedahl, went into the Casper bar, pointed guns at employees and patrons and robbed it of $260.

In a statement to an investigator from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, Merwin "stated that when they became aware of police pursuing them that Milligan stated that they should shoot at the officers and Howell said something to the effect of 'Go for it..'" according to the affadavit.

According to the affidavit, statements given by Gore and Liljedahl are "very consistent" with Merwin's account, and that Garren, who was driving during the escape, also fired at police. It also reads that the truck and guns stolen in Craig were used in commission of the robbery and shootout with police in Casper.

Given the age of some defendants and that multiple suspects are charged, the case is unusual for Natrona County, which has a population of about 70,000, Blonigen said.

"It's unusual to have this many defendants involved," he said.

Blonigen said the Wyoming charges against the suspects will have to be disposed of before the men can answer to any charges in Colorado.

The suspects are scheduled to appear again next week for a preliminary hearing, the district attorney said.

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

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