By Daniel Bendtsen
Via Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — A man was charged by federal prosecutors Tuesday for the apparent act of arson at Laramie’s downtown Republican headquarters in September.
Kellen Sorber was charged after an investigation that hinged on DNA testing and an undercover operation. He has been charged by U.S. attorneys with using fire to commit a felony, a crime that carries a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment.
Denise Greller, chair of the Albany County Democratic Party, said Sorber had not been affiliated with the local Democrats in any way.
Both Democratic and Republican party leaders in Laramie said they had never heard of Sorber, who is not a registered voter in Wyoming.
According to a federal affidavit, Sorber had been an employee at the Speedgoat Cafe at the time of the attack.
Greller reiterated her condemnation of the attack on the GOP headquarters.
“We’ve always encouraged people to be positive, not negative,” she said. “These are our friends, even if we don’t agree on politics.”
Michael Pearce, Republican candidate for Albany County Treasurer, said he was pleased police have somebody in custody.
“It’s good to have some resolution on it so we can move forward,” he said. “I hope the authorities get it right and the guy gets appropriate due process. We do want to make sure he’s given every opportunity to make his case.”
Albany County Commissioner Heber Richardson, a Republican, said the attack was likely the result of hateful political discourse infecting someone already lacking maturity.
“That guy didn’t hurt the Republican Party in Laramie and he didn’t help us. He only hurt himself,” Richardson said. “He could be a great person with a lot to contribute to the world, but he won’t do it with an orange suit on in prison. It’s sad.”
Richardson said it’s a reminder of how “counter-productive” discourse can also be self-destructive.
“It’s just human tragedy,” he said. “He could have written a letter to the editor. … It wouldn’t bother me if he was down on the corner with a sign that said ‘Republicans are idiots.’”
After the GOP headquarters were set ablaze Sept. 6, Laramie Police Department detective Joel Senior discovered a cinderblock that had been apparently thrown through the window.
A partially burnt cigarette was also discovered and was analyzed for DNA evidence.
That same day, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrived in Laramie to help with the investigation.
DNA found on a piece of cinderblock was consistent with the DNA found on the cigarette, according to an affidavit of probable cause by ATF special agent Alex Buehler.
When agents reviewed security footage from downtown cameras, they saw a man — later identified as Sorber — park a bicycle at the Speedgoat Cafe at about 2:19 a.m.
The man then picked up a cinderblock and walked toward the GOP office, which was out of view of the security camera.
Buehler said the suspect resembled an employee at the Speedgoat Cafe: Sorber.
On Oct. 4, an undercover ATF agent engaged in conversation with Sorber at the Speedgoat Cafe in order to “surreptitiously obtain DNA.”
The agent collected a beer can Sorber was drinking from and then later had it tested. That DNA matched the DNA collected during the original crime scene investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart Healey has asked for Sorber to be detained pending trial.
Damage to the structure included moderate smoke and heat damage to the first floor office. An occupant in an apartment on the second floor of the building was evacuated by LFD crews without incident. No injuries were reported.