Sean Pettus

Sean Pettus mug shot

POWELL — A former Cody resident has been named as a suspect in connection with the killing of a 20-year-old woman in Torrington last week. Sean L. Pettus, 32, has also been formally charged with crimes alleging that he set his Torrington business ablaze and stole a vehicle on the morning of April 20.

As of Wednesday, Pettus was being held in the Goshen County Detention Center on felony charges of first-degree arson and theft, with bail set at $500,000.

Although he has not been charged in connection with her death, Torrington police have also named Pettus as “the” suspect in the killing of Madison S. Cook. Few details have been publicly released about the case, with police saying only that they believe the homicide was related to the alleged arson and theft — and that Pettus is the only suspect.

Shortly after Pettus’ arrest last week, Torrington police called the investigation complex, saying they were working with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and the coroner “to gather all of the available evidence so that the truth can be learned and justice sought for the victim.”

“Madison’s loss is a blow to her family, her many friends, and our community,” Torrington police added in a Friday statement. “We ask for continued thoughts and prayers for those who have been impacted.”

In their Facebook profiles, Cook and Pettus indicated they had been married since January.

Cook was a Torrington native who graduated from Lingle High School. According to her obituary, Cook took art classes at Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington before entering the workforce and becoming certified in tattoo art.

Pettus had opened a tattoo shop in Torrington last fall, called BadDreams & Robots. On the morning of April 20, prosecutors say he poured gasoline on the walls of the building he was leasing and started a fire. Firefighters and police were summoned to the fire at 6:08 a.m., but Goshen County prosecutors said the commercial duplex was ultimately “destroyed.”

Torrington Assistant Police Chief Patrick Connelly said the adjoining hair salon suffered “burnt walls, flooring and ceilings, blistered paint, broken mirrors and heavy smoke damage.”

As police and firefighters worked the scene of the fire, Connelly said a couple employees at a nearby store reported that Pettus had just stolen a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey; they said he’d left behind a hooded sweatshirt that smelled like gasoline.

As Torrington police went looking for Pettus, they found Cook’s body. Shortly after that, at a nearby location, a resident reported that someone had driven off with her 2007 Ford Taurus, which she’d left running outside her home.

Pettus eluded authorities for roughly four hours after that. But around 11 a.m., Goshen County Sheriff’s deputies located the stolen vehicle sitting at a Torrington park, with Pettus inside. He was taken into custody “after a brief confrontation,” Torrington Police Sgt. Matt Davis wrote, adding that, “It appeared that he had been in the river, as he was soaking wet.”

While being interviewed by police in custody, Pettus allegedly admitted that he’d started the fire and stolen the alcohol.

Charging documents quote Pettus as saying he’d stopped at his tattoo shop early in the morning, and came outside to find someone had put sugar in his gas tank.

“Pettus was angry because he feels like people have been messing with him for a long time, so he said, ‘F— it,’ and set the building on fire,” Connelly recounted.

Pettus previously lived in both Florida and Cody, with court records showing contact with Park County law enforcement dating back to 2010. In 2009, court records show that, in addition to being charged with participating in a break-in at a Titusville, Florida, food market, Pettus was reportedly caught with homemade napalm and a detonator for making an incendiary device. When questioned by Titusville police, they said Pettus admitted to making the device “because he wanted to blow something (inanimate objects) up for fun.”

Police filed a charge of possessing a hoax bomb, but prosecutors ultimately dropped the case last year.

In Park County, Pettus was convicted of burglary for a 2016 incident in which he reportedly stole a Hoover steam vacuum and other items from a Powell trailer home; Pettus claimed he had paid for the items and continued to assert his innocence even after he pleaded guilty to the offense.

Pettus initially received probation for the burglary, but it was revoked in 2019 after he failed to successfully complete a drug court program in Sheridan. In March 2019, District Court Judge Bill Simpson ordered Pettus to serve four to six years in prison, with credit for the roughly two years he’d already spent in confinement.

Crime victim records indicate that Pettus was paroled in early July 2020.

Asked Wednesday whether Pettus remained on parole and whether he’d previously been housed at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington, a Department of Corrections official told the Tribune to file a formal public records request.

Since eliminating a public affairs position as part of state budget cuts, the department has generally been requiring media outlets to file public records requests for any inquiries.

Meanwhile, Pettus is tentatively set for a May 3 preliminary hearing on the arson and theft charges in Goshen County Circuit Court.

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