By Ellen Gerst
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — Protesters gathered outside the Casper Police Department on Friday, calling for a reduced sentence for a man who pleaded guilty to shooting someone he suspected had sexually abused an underage relative.
Olinza Headd was sentenced in April to 17 to 20 years in prison for the January 2021 shooting, pleading guilty without a plea agreement to a charge of manslaughter.
Some demonstrators held signs with messages including “Heroes deserve parades, not prison,” “Protect kids not criminals” and “Penalties for the pedophiles, not the protector.” Across the street, a woman sat in a car holding a sign to the window that read, “Set Lin free.”
The crowd passed around a plastic jug, collecting cash to go towards Headd’s attorney fees. Headd’s sons asked attendees and passing people to add their names to a petition for lowering his sentence.
Valenta Headd, Olinza’s wife, said she last saw him on Tuesday. Since then, he has been taken out of the Natrona County Detention Center and is presumably on his way to prison. But she doesn’t know where.
“They didn’t give me any information,” she said at Friday’s protest.
Headd’s sentence means he could be in prison for the maximum time allowed for a manslaughter conviction: 20 years.
According to an investigator’s affidavit in the case, Headd shot Eugene Hogan III three times with a 9 mm handgun on Jan. 13, 2021. Hogan, who was never prosecuted, was unarmed and in a bedroom at Headd’s daughter’s apartment, court filings say.
Medics declared Hogan dead at the scene about an hour after the shooting, according to the affidavit.
Four days later, Headd stood up after a Sunday service at his church and “publicly announced he shot and killed a man,” the affidavit states.
Headd spent 81 days in jail in Natrona County on a $150,000 bond after being arrested in February 2021. Jail records show he was booked back in after receiving his sentence in April of this year, waiting to be transported to prison.
He originally faced a second-degree murder charge, which carries a minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum of life behind bars. The charge was later amended to voluntary manslaughter.
Court records show Head filed to appeal his case a week after sentencing. He is set to represent himself.
Friday’s protest was attended by around 25 people at its peak, most of whom didn’t know Headd personally. They’d seen his story on the news, or on social media, and said they were outraged by the prison sentence.
A few said they would have done the same thing in his position.
“I think they need to give him a trophy,” said Tom Mahrer. “I believe in our judicial system, I really do. But when it comes to harming family members, anger and emotion take over.”
Protesters said they wanted to see harsher sentences for sex crimes, like minor sexual abuse. Several talked about their own experiences with sexual assault, or said they had family members who struggled to heal from assault because they lived in fear of seeing their assailant while they walked free.
Valenta Headd said ideally, she’d like to see her husband’s sentence reduced to only his time served, meaning he could get out of prison immediately with no additional time. He had no prior criminal history, and was not a violent man, she said.
Theresa Gilbert, who knew Headd from Rock of Ages Church, said she was shocked at the sentence. Headd is a good man who supported everyone he knew, she said.
“The justice system failed this man,” said Lexy Ward. “As a community we have an obligation to have a say in that.”
The crowd walked around the block, passing buildings housing county offices, circuit and district courts and the police department’s parking lot. They stood on the corner of Center and First streets, holding up signs and yelling “Free Olinza” and “Justice for Olinza” to drivers in rush hour traffic. Several honked, or gave thumbs up. One passenger leaned out and asked what was going on, and later met the group down the block to sign the petition.
Andre Harper, one of Headd’s sons, said all of the response from the community — both online and in person — has been in support of Headd.
As the protest entered its second hour, Casper police employees began streaming out of the department’s headquarters. A few stopped to talk with protesters, but all declined to sign the petition. Keysha Donner said she understood they’d chosen the location not in protest of the police, but to actually show support for the department.
“I can’t imagine the work that they do, to go and arrest these people, the horrible things that they see,” Donner said. “Just to have it put in court and get a plea bargain or worked down to this or that.”
A GoFundMe page was set up last May to raise money for Headd’s bond and attorney fees, which the organizer said were causing his family “extreme hardships.”
The organizer, Keith James, alleged in the fundraiser’s description that one of Headd’s relatives was “being inappropriately cared for and molested.”
James could not be reached for comment on Friday.
“When nothing was being done about it, matters were dealt with in a more personal fashion,” the description reads.
K2 Radio News reported that Headd said in a hearing that he confronted Hogan about the molestation allegations.
“I did lose control. I hate that I had to be the one to end that man’s life,” he said, according to K2. “But somebody else would have if he kept touching people’s children.”