The cattle rustling convictions of an eastern Utah rancher were overturned by the Wyoming Supreme Court on Thursday as the court ruled the state did not have enough evidence to support the convictions.
The Supreme Court agreed with arguments by Modesto Mendicoa that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of four counts of cattle rustling.Mendicoa was found guilty by a state district court jury in Sweetwater County in April 1988 of four counts of cattle rustling, a felony, and four counts of transporting livestock across state lines without a brand inspection, a misdemeanor.
"There is considerable evidence that the cattle disappeared from their Wyoming owners' property . . . that they were found in Utah some months later when (Mendicoa) sold them to (the Texas rancher) and that (Mendicoa) attempted to conceal his lack of ownership," the ruling said. "The record is devoid, however, of any evidence linking (Mendicoa) to the disappearance of these cattle from their owners' premises."
The state argued that in conjunction with other factors, such as Mendicoa's efforts to conceal the fact he did not own the cattle, the possession of the animals was sufficient for a conviction.
"We have no quarrel with this general principal," the ruling said. "Under the circumstances of this case, however . . . we must agree . . . that the inference required for the jury to find that (Mendicoa) or his agents actually stole or took and carried away these cattle exceeds the bounds of permissible inference."