January 22, 1992
Mark Hopkinson is executed for the murder of a witness who was scheduled to testify against him in another murder trial
Hopkinson had been involved in a legal dispute regarding sewer lines connected to the mobile home park he owned, in which a lawsuit was filed by attorney Vincent Vehar on behalf of the Fort Bridger Sewer Board for $12,000 in delinquent fees owed by Hopkinson. On the night of August 6, 1977, three days before Hopkinson was scheduled to be deposed in the lawsuit, the Vehar home was destroyed by an explosion. Vincent Vehar, his wife Beverly, and their 15-year-old son John were killed. The Vehars had another son in the home at the time of the bombing who was seriously injured but survived.
Little movement was made in the Vehar case until Jeffrey Green (23) came forward to authorities to implicate two men in two sets of murders: 15-year-old Kellie Wyckhuyse who had gone missing in 1976, as well as the Vehar bombing. According to Green, a man named Mike Hickey had killed Wyckhuyse and he suspected Hopkinson had been responsible for the Vehars’ deaths. Before Green could testify, however, his body was found in a rest area on May 20, 1979. He had over 100 cigarette burns to his body, including 2 to his eyes, and had been fatally shot in the neck.
With Green’s information, Wyckhuyse’s case was resolved. Hickey was questioned and admitted to the murder, saying that he and a man named James Hysell had plotted to kill the teen after she implicated Hysell on a cannabis charge. Hickey drove Wyckhuyse to a remote location, struck her in the head with a rock, cut out her genitals to prove she was dead, and buried her in a shallow grave. Hysell brought authorities to the grave in September of 1977, 15 months after Wyckhuyse’s murder.
In his confession, Hickey claimed Hopkinson was aware of Wyckhuyse’s murder and offered to provide Hickey with an alibi, as well as $2,000, in exchange for bombing the Vehar home. Hickey agreed and used 30 sticks of dynamite to destroy the house. Authorities offered Hickey a deal in exchange for his testimony against Hopkinson: 20 years in prison with an assumed name for his protection from Hopkinson’s possible retaliation.
The prosecution argued Hopkinson, who was incarcerated in federal prison for his part in a conspiracy to bomb an Arizona attorney’s car, had orchestrated the bombing of the Vehar home and the torture-killing of Green through telephone calls to Hickey. Twenty-seven witnesses were presented by the prosecution and over 300 pieces of evidence entered against Hopkinson. The defense attempted to discredit Hickey’s testimony by saying he “got as good a deal as you can get,” referring to the reduced sentence, and argued Hopkinson had nothing to gain from Green’s death which “did more to implicate Hopkinson than his testimony had he lived.”
During the defense portion of the trial, Hopkinson’s team simply rested. “It was to the fact simply that I felt the State hasn’t proved anything,” Hopkinson explained to the Court. “[My decision] was voluntary. I thought the whole situation over and it was my own conclusion.”
The jury deliberated for 9 and a half hours before returning with guilty verdicts. Hopkinson was sentenced to life for each of the three Vehar murders and death for Green’s.
Hopkinson was executed by lethal injection at the age of 42. His final statement, issued minutes before his death, was: “I would like this to serve as a dying declaration. Nobody I called from the Lompoc Prison other than Jim Taylor [an acquaintance] had any involvement whatsoever in Jeff Green’s death. Gerry Spence [the attorney who prosecuted Hopkinson] is a lying manipulating piece of shit. The governor could have proved this case against me was a lie. The Attorney General’s office will continue to try and justify their lie. Thank you. Mark 1/22/92. P.S. I feel sorry for the Vehar family, but you got the wrong man. Forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Hopkinson’s execution was the first in the state of Wyoming in 26 years.
Scherting, Karen. “Man who killed 4 people lives quietly in Wyoming’s Bridger Valley.” Billings Gazette. May 1, 2011. Updated: May 4, 2015. Accessed: January 22, 2021. https://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/wyoming/man-who-killed-4-people-lives-quietly-in-wyomings-bridger-valley/article_077eb6c9-d476-57f9-ae67-30b675780630.html
Mark Hopkinson. The Wyoming Frontier Prison. Accessed: January 22, 2021. http://wyomingfrontierprison.org/mark-hopkinson/
“Prisoner executed.” The Spokesman-Review [Spokane, Washington]. January 22, 1992
“Wyckhuyse case file never was missing.” Star-Tribune [Casper, Wyoming]. July 10, 1985
Hopkins v. State. 1983 WY 57. 664 P.2d 43. Case Number: 57733. Decided: 05/27/1983. Supreme Court of Wyoming. Archived: https://law.justia.com/cases/wyoming/supreme-court/1983/121112.html
Van Laanen, Lisa. “Hopkinson gets delay.” Jackson Hole Guide. December 17, 1981
Gunn, John. “The Hopkinson Trial.” Jackson Hole News. September 26, 1979
Ansley, David. “Men blame each other for killing.” Casper Star-Tribune. May 31, 1979