A suspect in a murder that took place sometime in the afternoon or early evening hours of Thursday, Jan. 4, at Rose City West apartments in Lovell made his first court appearance in Basin on Monday.
During his initial appearance, the suspect, Donald Joe Crouse, a resident of Lovell, was charged with premeditated first-degree murder. Crouse is currently being held at the Big Horn County Detention Center in Basin on a $1 million cash bond. If Crouse is convicted of first-degree murder, the crime is punishable by death or life in prison, without parole.
Court documents allege that the defendant “purposely and with premeditated malice, killed a human being.”
Crouse, 48, is accused of killing his ex-wife Carol Jean Barnes, 49, of Cowley, based on evidence at the scene of the crime and his own admissions during an interview with officers from the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation in Casper, following his arrest in Natrona County.
According to an affidavit of probable cause submitted by the Lovell Police Department, officers received a call at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday from a concerned family member regarding the welfare of Barnes. The family member stated to police that he became concerned after receiving an “SOS” text message from Barnes that indicated she was in need of help.
Officers immediately went to Barnes’ residence in Cowley and to Crouse’s apartment at Rose City West to see if Barnes was OK. After noticing blood evidence on the exterior of Crouse’s apartment door, officers entered the apartment where they found a female matching a description of Barnes dead on the floor of the apartment with injuries that appeared consistent with stab wounds by a sharp object. They also found multiple bloody knives in the apartment. The identity of the victim was later confirmed to be Barnes.
According to the affidavit submitted by Lovell Police, evidence at the scene included handwritten notes allegedly written and signed by Crouse. Some of the notes outlined his intent to kill Barnes. According to the affidavit one note directed officers to seek other information on a cell phone. Police found the cell phone, but have not been able to access it yet.
As part of their investigation, officers spoke to an acquaintance of Crouse who said he called Crouse at around 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, and Crouse confessed during the call that he had “freaked out” and stabbed Barnes.
An immediate investigation and statewide search for Crouse resulted in his arrest in Mills on Thursday at 8:39 p.m., according to police records. According to the affidavit, Crouse was seen wearing bloody clothing at the time of his arrest. Crouse was held in the Natrona County jail until he was transported to the Big Horn County Detention Center in Basin on Sunday.
According to LPD Chief Dan Laffin, the department had not received any previous complaints about Crouse and did not have any domestic incidents on record involving the couple. However, they did have contact with him twice. The first time was on Nov. 9, 2017, when he called the police department to complain about an attempted scam on his Facebook account. The second call was on Dec. 20, 2017, when officers checked on his welfare at the request of another individual (not Barnes). The caller was concerned that Crouse may be suicidal. Chief Laffin said officers responding to the request for the welfare check spoke to Crouse at length and, with his permission, examined his cell phone for any messages that would indicate that he might be a threat to himself or others. At the time, they found nothing on the phone or in his demeanor to indicate he was a threat, and no other action was taken.
Laffin noted that Crouse is a convicted felon and served time in prison on drug charges in Natrona County in the past. Other court records indicate he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge in Florida in 1993 for loitering. He pled no contest to that charge and paid a fine.
The Lovell Police Department issued a press release on Sunday stating that Crouse had been apprehended. It also stated that an autopsy of the victim had been performed and that the report has been provided to law enforcement. No details of the autopsy were revealed in the press release.
“The effectiveness of inter-agency communication and cooperation should not go unnoticed,” stated Laffin in the release. “The immediacy of the suspect’s arrest was due to this communication and the outstanding efforts of the Mills Police Department and the alertness of the arresting officer, Grant Pederson, of that department.
“The most important thing for all of us now is to ensure that a fair trial is held and justice for the victim is secured. The release of information related to this case will be closely controlled and limited in an effort to ensure all aspects of the process remain uncompromised and an accurate criminal trial is conducted. Please keep the family of the victim in your thoughts and prayers.”
Crouse is scheduled to appear again in court in Basin on Monday, Jan. 15 at 9 a.m., for his preliminary hearing.
By Patti Carpenter