SUBLETTE COUNTY – After hearing detective’s testimony and answers to questions from the county’s deputy prosecuting attorney and Nicholas A. Leyva’s private defense attorney on Tuesday, the judge found probable cause to bind the multiple felony case to 9th District Court.
On Aug. 31 around 7 p.m., Sublette County deputies and EMS responded to a call about a domestic dispute with Dr. Steven “Buck” Wallace suffering serious injuries allegedly inflicted by Leyva – a blow to the back of Wallace’s head, one from a foot to his throat and one alleged attempt to strangle Wallace, each of which caused him to pass out, according to Detective Travis Lanning.
The incident occurred at the Daniel home Leyva shared with Wallace; the two were married six years but Wallace wanted to talk about a divorce over dinner that evening, Lanning said.
Leyva was arrested Sept. 2 and initially charged with three assault and strangulation felonies and misdemeanor domestic battery. His Sublette County Circuit Court initial appearance took place Sept. 6 before Judge Curt Haws, who set a bond of $500,000 cash or surety. Leyva remains in custody after the Sept. 13 preliminary hearing, when a circuit court judge determines if there is probable cause for the charges to be tried in the higher court.
Sublette County Deputy Attorney Clayton Melinkovich added the second-degree attempted murder charge and filed amended criminal information on Sept. 9 in Circuit Court, records show.
He amended the charges because “the investigation is more complete and facts resulting therein necessitate the amendment of the (original criminal information,” his motion says.
On Sept. 13, Melinkovich questioned Lanning about his investigation, which began without an interview with Wallace, he said.
Lanning didn’t interview Wallace until Sept. 2, when he was released from Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center where he was life-flighted by AirIdaho on Aug. 31.
He added new information to his previous affidavit – that Wallace heard Leyva say he would kill him and that neighbors heard gunshots while they were tending to Wallace’s injuries.
Deputies and Sublette EMS responded around 7 p.m. to the neighbor’s home where Wallace managed to drive to before collapsing outside. Lanning said a deputy called him to say a detective was needed and that Leyva allegedly had a firearm.
When Lanning arrived around 8 p.m., Leyva was already in custody. Lanning found three spent 9-mm casings and a cartridge on the couple’s deck, not necessarily fired at Wallace or the neighbors, he said.
Defense attorney Alex Freeburg asked Lanning if he knew Leyva or Wallace, with whom Lanning said he worked with at times on clinic and medical calls. Did Lanning have a social relationship with Wallace, he asked. “Just someone I recognize.”
Lanning said he was called in around 7:30 p.m. and arrived closer to 8 p.m. He was not on shift that day and did not recall if he had anything to drink before arriving, he replied to Freeburg’s questions.
About Wallace’s broken phone, Freeburg asked if he knew if Leyva broke it to prevent Wallace from using it or if it was just broken. Lanning didn’t know.
Lanning didn’t have “direct contact” with Wallace until Sept. 2 when he was released from EIRMC, because with an intubated trachea he was unable to speak on Aug. 31. As for the gunshots, he said Wallace had arrived at the neighbor’s and was lying on the ground. The distance between the two houses is about 200 yards, Lanning recalled.
Initially Lanning recommended aggravated assault and battery charges, Freeburg said, asking if Lanning’s Sept. 2 conversation with Wallace “prompted” him to recommend the attempted murder charge.
Melinkovich objected; Judge Haws sustained the objection.
Freeburg asked Lanning if while Wallace was passed out in their home, Leyva’s firearm was in the home – it was. He asked if any prescription bottles were found in the home; Melinkovich objected and the judge overruled.
Lanning said he found two prescriptions belonging to Wallace.
“Did you learn from Mr. Wallace if he or Mr. Leyva were taking any … medication that would affect their mental health?” Freeburg asked.
Melinkovich said he understood the point but the purpose of the preliminary hearing was to find probable cause to carry the charges to trial. Judge Haws said the medications “may shed some light” on alleged recklessness or motivation.
Lanning said Wallace took one prescription and “said he slept better” and Leyva had asked Wallace if he could take some to see if he could sleep better.
“Dr. Wallace was prescribed, and occasionally Mr. Leyva might take it, but Dr. Wallace was unsure if he took it on Aug. 31,” Judge Haws concluded.
In closing, Melinkovich said the hearing is supposed to be “a quick efficient means” with enough proof presented to reasonably believe the crimes were committed. These factual elements were met, he said.
Leyva’s alleged “purposeful” and continued actions to cause Wallace injuries took “substantial action toward ending the life of Mr. Wallace.”
Freeburg said Leyva had opportunities while Wallace was unconscious “if the goal is to murder someone.” He could have killed him but he didn’t, the defense attorney argued.
Judge Haws said he had to conclude that of Leyva’s alleged series of actions, a reasonable person would know they could cause series injuries. Freeburg made “an interesting comment” that Leyva could have killed Wallace while he was unconscious, he added.
He bound the case to 9th District Court
Freeburg requested a smaller bond, citing Leyva’s lack of criminal history and his mother’s request to move here and help him. Melinkovich agreed Leyva had no criminal history “yet we saw what we saw” and a high bond could ensure compliance.
“Nothing I hear today raises my level of concern over (Leyva’s) failure to appear,” Judge Haws said.
However, he left bond-and-release terms for Judge Tyler to review at Leyva’s as-yet unscheduled 9th District Court arraignment.