A 32-year-old Torrington man is accused of stabbing and suffocating his 20-year-old girlfriend, according to testimony during a court hearing Monday, May 3.
Sean Logan Pettus, 32, appeared before Judge Nathan Hibben in circuit court proceedings with public defenders David McDonald and Johnathan Foreman. Goshen County Attorney Eric Boyer and Zach Leininger represented the state.
Pettus has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Madison Cook. He is also accused of felony theft over $1,000, and two burglary charges.
Among the people in court were family members of Cook. During the hearing, Pettus sat, looking down the entire time, never looking around the court’s gallery. He answered the judge when asked questions. A strong law enforcement was present.
Pettus is accused of starting a fire at the business he leased and an adjoining business on East Valley Road, stealing a local woman’s Ford Taurus, stealing items from her car and in Cook’s death.
Testimony from Det. Rebecca Wakamatsu, of the Torrington Police Department, revealed some of the facts in the investigation. Wakamatsu testified she first began investigating after being called to the Smoker Friendly convenience store where it was reported Pettus had come into the store directly after the fire had been reported at his business across the street. Employees allegedly told the detective Pettus had walked in, smelled strongly of gasoline, went into the restroom, came out and stole a bottle of Jack Daniels, then left. Police recovered a video from the store.
Wakamatsu testified the state fire marshal determined that the fire had started in the Sharon’s Hair Care portion of the business. The two businesses were separated by a door, which was not used by either business and a heavy hutch was located behind the door that would make it difficult to use.
Later, police made contact with Pettus after receiving a report at about 10 a.m. of a stolen vehicle. The vehicle was found about an hour later, at Pioneer Park, about two miles away from where it was stolen and deputies found it had been stuck in the mud. Authorities located Pettus in the car, who had change in his sweatshirt pocket and a phone, which Pettus had told deputies he had taken from the car.
“He had ditched some of his clothes down by the river,” Wakamatsu testified.
During police interviews, Wakamatsu testified that Pettus had made strange statements. He made statements about starting the fire after seeing someone put sugar in his car and deciding to light it on fire. He told her that he hated Torrington, that it is filled with ninjas and he heard whispering coming from Sharon’s Hair Care, she said.
“He thinks everyone in Torrington is against him,” she said.
Wakamatsu also testified that Pettus had made statements to police that he had used methamphetamine Sunday.
On the morning of April 20, police began investigating the whereabouts of Cook after receiving a call about a family member concerned about her welfare. Family reported that they had not had contact with Cook since Saturday, three days prior, and that at that point she had indicated she had moved out from living with Pettus. However, the couple — who Wakamatsu testified it is not clear if they are married or not — were together that Sunday.
Police went to Pettus’ apartment, where they entered after knocking and receiving no answer. In the front rooms, the house seemed to be in good order. Then as they made their way into the bedroom, Wakamatsu described the home as in complete disarray. In the bedroom, officers located Cook’s body, covered with a bunch of clothes, towels and other items.
Police left the apartment to obtain a search warrant. After obtaining the warrant, they re-entered the apartment. After uncovering her body, police found Cook had two T-shirts and a plastic bag on her neck and she suffered several stab wounds.
The detective also testified about the findings of an autopsy, which was done at Western Pathology Consultants in Scottsbluff. The autopsy determined Cook died from a combination of the stabbings and asphyxiation. The woman had also suffered blunt force trauma to her face, and to the top of her head where she was stabbed right past the hairline. A timeline for Cook’s death had not yet been officially detailed in a report but was believed to have occurred 24 to 36 hours prior to being located by police. When police located Cook’s phone, it had a video from Sunday evening and had been used at around midnight Sunday to make many calls to Pettus.
Defense attorneys argued for Pettus’ charges to be reduced, arguing that the evidence only showed he should be charged with second-degree murder and that theft charge should also be a lesser offense. The judge overruled the argument, binding all charges to district court for trial.
Attorneys also sought to lower Pettus’ bond, which the judge denied. Pettus is not eligible for bond on the murder charge and bond has been set at $500,000 on the other four charges.
If convicted of the murder charge, Pettus could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. The first-degree arson charge is punishable by a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and/or a $20,000 fine. The theft and burglary charges are each punishable by a maximum imprisonment of 10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.