Cheyenne man pleads no contest to voluntary manslaughter, other felonies

CHEYENNE — A man accused of shooting two people, killing one of them, pleaded no contest Wednesday to voluntary manslaughter and several other felony charges in Laramie County District Court. 

Frank John McHenry, 28, entered no-contest pleas to two counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted voluntary manslaughter, two counts of aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon and four counts of interference with a peace officer with injury, as part of a plea agreement.

McHenry’s attorney, Cody Jerabek, said his client would enter no-contest pleas because McHenry was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the incident and would not be able to give a factual basis necessary to plead guilty. 

The state and McHenry agreed to a maximum sentence of 14 to 20 years in prison. 

Though Wednesday’s change-of-plea hearing was presided over by Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell, the case remains assigned to Laramie County District Judge Catherine Rogers, who will sentence McHenry at a future hearing. 

Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove said the state planned to dismiss an additional charge of misdemeanor property destruction. 

McHenry originally faced first-degree murder and attempted murder charges in connection with the shootings. 

On May 11, 2018, Laramie County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the 5000 block of South Greeley Highway after a man reported that his daughter had been shot in the hip and that her vehicle was also hit. 

The woman said the man who was shooting at her had run toward a house in the 600 block of Pontillo Drive, according to court documents. 

While searching part of the property for the suspect, a detective discovered the body of Joseph Steven Tortolito, 61, of Cheyenne hidden under several pallets. The owner of the home and the property was taken to the sheriff’s department for an interview. He said he’d heard seven bangs that morning but didn’t know what they were and hadn’t seen anyone outside the house, according to court documents. 

The man said he assumed Tortolito, who worked for him, had come up to the house for something. 

Shortly after Tortolito’s body was found, a SWAT team made up of officers from the sheriff’s department and the Cheyenne Police Department saw a man, later identified as McHenry, running in and out of the Pontillo Drive home holding a firearm, according to court documents. 

McHenry rummaged through two vehicles before getting into a third and starting it, backing it down the driveway until he was stopped by the SWAT team, where he surrendered without incident. 

The owner of the Pontillo Drive home said McHenry had not had permission to be there, and he identified a black .22-caliber pistol found with McHenry as his, along with other personal items and money. A wallet, a backpack and a coat, which contained three AR-15-type magazines and a notebook with “Frank McHenry” written on it, were found at the property, along with a rifle sling, which was later found to have been stolen by McHenry, according to court documents. 

Deputies discovered that the door of a home directly south of the Pontillo Drive home had been kicked in. 

This home belonged to McHenry’s uncle, who told law enforcement that McHenry had come to his home at about 8:30 that morning. He then gave McHenry a ride to his fifth wheel trailer near South Greeley Highway. 

The uncle was later made aware of a shooting near his property, and when he returned, he saw his rifles had been loaded, and his Smith and Wesson M&P15 .223 rifle was missing, according to court documents. 

The front door had been kicked in and damaged, and there was a piece of his bed frame in the living room. The other half of the bed frame was later found in McHenry’s trailer. 

A few days later, the woman who had been shot in the hip showed a deputy where she’d last seen McHenry, wearing a black hooded shirt or jacket, run. 

Later, a Smith and Wesson M&P15 .223 rifle was found under a tree in the approximate area, wrapped in a black jacket with McHenry’s family photos and hidden under a pile of pine needles, according to court documents. 

After McHenry was brought into a sheriff’s department interview room on May 11, 2018, McHenry told a detective he needed to readjust a blanket around his waist – the only item he was wearing. 

When the detective left the room, McHenry moved his handcuffs from his back to his front by slipping them behind his legs, according to court documents. The detective observed this and returned to the room, and McHenry ran toward him. 

The detective put McHenry against the wall and advised him to put his cuffed hands behind his back. McHenry told the detective to “just shoot me in the head.” 

McHenry eventually put the handcuffs back behind him but refused to sit down, saying he would only talk to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation about drugs and illegal guns, according to court documents. 

Later, McHenry got up on a chair and attempted to leave the interview room through the ceiling. He pulled a 3-foot piece of metal air duct from the ceiling and charged at the detective, injuring the detective’s arms. A deputy deployed a Taser, which struck McHenry. 

McHenry acted aggressively as the detective and three deputies tried to restrain him, according to court documents. He tried to bite and kick them several times, and caused cuts and scrapes to one of the deputies’ hands. 

A pathologist confirmed during an autopsy on May 12, 2018, that Tortolito had died of multiple gunshot wounds, and his death was declared a homicide. The Wyoming State Crime Laboratory later found McHenry’s DNA on some of Tortolito’s clothing and several parts of the rifle, according to court documents.