RIVERTON – Mario Mills was sentenced on Wednesday to 20-25 years in prison for second-degree murder.
The Riverton man born in 1982 was convicted of the crime by a jury on March 12, after a week-long trial that explored the case evidence from the night of March 26, 2020.
On that night, Mills and his best friend, Trevor Bartlett, 37, were drinking in Mills’ garage. Bartlett said he wanted to die, but he didn’t have the nerve to commit suicide, according to statements made by Mills to police.
After a fierce argument, Mills retrieved a .45 Glock pistol, asked Bartlett again if he was certain, and shot him in the left side of the head from approximately 18 inches away.
“One of the things that haunts me the most,” began Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun during the sentencing hearing, “is all the things I personally have done since I was 38. Trevor was (almost) 38 when he died. I welcomed my first and only child… Isn’t it possible that one day Trevor would have looked at Mario and let him know how much he appreciated not being killed by him?”
LeBrun asked Fremont County District Court Judge Jason Conder to consider not just the tragic circumstances of the crime and the victim’s state of mind, but the value of human life itself.
“Everyone has the right to their day in court. It’s one of the greatest things about this country… but acceptance of responsibility can go a long way also.”
After Bartlett’s death, Mills woke his wife, told her what had happened, and asked her to help him. The pair surveyed the scene, changed their clothes, and dumped their clothing in a dumpster behind Mills’s wife’s place of employment. She called 911 to report the death as a suicide.
LeBrun argued at sentencing that this act was proof that Mills was not “blackout” drunk, and also that the defendant was using “criminal thinking.”
The prosecutor argued for a sentence of 30-50 years in prison, with $3,533.65 in restitution to the state’s victim compensation fund.
Several people testified on Mills’ behalf, including his victim’s mother, Destin Walker.
Mills’ own mother, grandfather, father, and friends also spoke well of him, describing instances of selflessness, honesty, altruism, and diligence by him.
Mills’ daughter approached the court, intending to testify. The girl was very emotional and consented to allow Mills’ defense attorney, Rob Oldham, to read her written statement.
“Your Honor, I need my dad,” Oldham read from the letter. “He’s been there since the day I was born.”
The letter listed several of Mills’ shared hobbies with his daughter, their favorite memories, and described the tenderness of his parenting tactics.
“I love him very much,” the girl’s statement concluded.
Bartlett’s mother, Destin Walker, said her son had wanted to die for 20 years.
“He was not going to have any more happy moments,” she said, countering LeBrun, and referenced Bartlett’s severe alcoholism and cycle of despair. “I know Trevor was going to leave this Earth, with or without Mario’s help, and it wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience… Mario is a good man, and we are all human beings. We all make mistakes. We’re not perfect. We can only strive for perfection, but I believe Mario deserves a second chance –– I think we all do.”
Walker told the judge that she was very concerned about what could happen to Mills’s daughter “if you take him away from her.”
Oldham asked Conder to suspend a sentence of 20-22 years on a strict, intensely monitored probation term.
“I don’t think this man deserves to be put in prison for 20 years,” said Oldham, acknowledging that although Wyoming law punishes second-degree murder by between 20 years and life in prison, judges can suspend that prison sentence and offer instead a term of probation. “And I think the reason your Honor can feel comfortable about suspending that sentence –– there’s a lot of reasons why you can feel comfortable about it.”
Oldham listed all the methods by which alcohol ingestion can be tracked and prevented, and people’s behavior can be monitored. He said community service could be a fitting punishment for Mills, who had been in jail for 455 days already.
“The saddest part about this whole thing is he had it –– he had the American dream, and he blew it. Did he blow it because he wanted to? No. He blew it because of the same thing that so many other people suffer from: drunkenness.”
Mills addressed the judge, starting on a lighter note before turning to serious themes and beginning to weep.
“Today is the first day in 454 days that I’ve been able to see my daughter. Sadly, that’s also the same amount of time since I last saw Trevor. It truly is bittersweet.”
He said he always sensed his friend would die young, but he never imagined he’d be the one involved, or would have to explain it to a judge.
“The bottom line is I failed Trevor. I failed his mom, his brother, and most of all (my daughter). I have to live with that.”
He described at length the intensity of his own drinking problem, and Bartlett’s as well, and asked for the judge to grant the suspended sentence.
Mills said that, to him, being away from his wife and daughter amounted to torture.
“I am sorry for all the hardships I’ve caused… and for the loss of a truly amazing person.”
Conder addressed not just the defendant, but everyone in the courtroom.
“I know it is not easy for anyone to hear,” said the judge, “but I must admit I have a great deal of angst –– and I wouldn’t say frustration –– but I guess, surprise, that Trevor has become a castaway citizen. From where I sit, Trevor Bartlett has been viewed as a throw-away. Someone who everyone says they loved, but he just had too many problems to deal with, and apparently it was OK that he died.”
Conder said yes, Bartlett struggled with suicidal feelings, “yet he was alive. He hadn’t done it. I will not psychoanalyze any of this other than to simply say that Mr. Bartlett was not a castaway citizen.”
The judge hearkened back to a trial testimony, in which one of Bartlett’s friends, a “beautiful young woman” told the jury about one of Bartlett’s last days, when the pair built a barbecue pit together. “His life did matter.”
Conder then moved on to the subject of accountability.
“I must confess that I do oftentimes get a great sense of confusion and dismay –– I don’t know how else to say it –– that the finger is pointed back at me. I hear counsel, family, friends, look to me and say ‘Think of all these things.’ “My response is simply to say back: ‘I didn’t do any of this… I didn’t pull the trigger. Mr. LeBrun didn’t pull the trigger. Mr. Mills did. And it was Mr. Mills’ job –– not mine –– to think about his family, his friends, his wife and daughter lying sleeping in the house when, at point-blank range, he shot a man in the head.”
Conder said LeBrun’s offer of 30-50 years was excessive, but that probation also was inappropriate.
He added that if it had been a less severe crime, he would have applied probation for a man like Mills.
“I will fashion a sentence that (will give him) a life. He will be eligible for parole. He will have a future. He will get to spend future Christmases with (his daughter).
“All these things, he will get to do –– that Trevor will not.”
Conder also ordered the restitution requested by the state, credit for 455 days served, and court fees.