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Fourth man arrested in bull rider's drug death

By Michael Van Cassell

December 12, 2009

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CHEYENNE -- Three men will head to trial in federal court on charges related to a drug overdose death, and a fourth man was arrested Monday morning in Denver.

A local drug task force officer testified that witnesses told investigators they found local 21-year-old bull rider Bryan J. Guthrie dead at his home the morning of Dec. 2 after an evening of heroin and cocaine use.

Cheyenne residents Kyle Walla, 20, Joel D. Murdoch, 22, and Rhett T. Epler, 26, each face a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine or heroin, the use of which resulted in a death.

Christopher C. Tyson was arrested on the same charge Monday morning in Denver, according to authorities.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William C. Beaman ordered the three young men to stand trial on the charge after hearing several hours of testimony from David Stevens, who works as a drug task force officer for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Beaman also denied Walla, Murdoch and Epler's requests for release from custody.

"This is indeed a sad day for everybody here," Beaman told a packed courtroom.

He said it's rare that he sees defendants with "solid backgrounds" before him.

Stevens described how the alleged conspirators brought heroine into Cheyenne and how authorities believe it resulted in Guthrie's death on Dec. 2.

The detective, along with other investigators, spoke with four different "confidential sources," who described alleged heroin purchases made by Tyson off a man identified only as "Elmer" near Colfax Avenue in Denver and how he helped procure the drug for Walla, Murdoch and Epler.

Toward the end of the hearing, assistant U.S. attorney L. Robert Murray described Tyson as the "heroin drug dealer to young people in Cheyenne."

Tyson will make his first appearance in federal court today in Denver, according to Murray.

Stevens said Epler was not present during Guthrie's death, and that a confidential source said Walla and Murdoch brought heroin and cocaine from Denver to use Dec. 1 at Guthrie's Arapahoe Avenue residence. The detective said witnesses stated that Murdoch attempted CPR on Guthrie when he was found unresponsive in a bedroom the next morning.

Stevens said Epler introduced the defendants to Tyson, which Murray argued made him part of the conspiracy.

The detective said that, according to witnesses, Murdoch and Guthrie pooled their money to buy the drugs, while Walla was the driver to Denver.

Epler's attorney, Thomas Lee, argued there was no evidence presented that made his client part of the conspiracy.

Both Walla and Murdoch's attorney argued evidence showed there may have been a "use conspiracy" and that their clients didn't distribute the drugs.