GILLETTE, Wyo. — A Gillette man was sentenced today to up to nine years in prison for intellectual and financial felonies against Irene Gakwa, a Gillette woman who has been missing since early 2022.
Judge James Causey sentenced Nathan Hightman, 39, for theft, unlawful use of a credit card and crimes against Gakwa’s intellectual property. Hightman faces three to six years of concurrent prison time, with credit served for 81 days in Campbell County’s detention center, and a probation term with a suspended sentence of two to three years. He also needs to pay about $7,000 in restitution to Gakwa, his fiancé. Kennedy Wainaina, one of Gakwa’s brothers, will hold onto the money at this time.
Hightman’s defense attorney, Dallas Lamb, said that the court needed to focus on the “objective reality,” or the crimes Hightman was convicted of, instead of the “subjective reality,” the mentality of the community, in sentencing. Many people on social media have asked that Hightman receive the maximum punishment, but Hightman’s previous criminal history was negligible. It included a few traffic citations, not similar crimes. The likelihood Hightman would repeat the crimes he was sentenced for June 14 was low. The crimes were all against Gakwa and they were part of a series of incidents.
Lamb said Hightman should receive two to five years of probation, with credit for time served, for two of the charges and two to five years of supervised suspended probation, as well as mental health services. Hightman remained in the community and was cooperative with law enforcement and compliant with bond terms, so he would be compliant on probation. During that time, Hightman was denied rideshare and food delivery services and faced protestors outside his home. He was also housed separately in the Campbell County detention center because of threats to his safety, including a rumor that there was a bounty available for anyone who could harm him while in jail.
Measures the court weighs in sentencing include the safety of the community.
“The one who needs protecting is Nathan Hightman,” Lamb said.
Lamb said he wanted the court to waive the $1,500 public defender fee for inability to pay since he believed that Hightman, once he regains employment, should be able to immediately start paying restitution to Gakwa’s family.
Campbell County Attorney Nathan Henkes asked Healy to allow him to call Wainaina as a witness, but Lamb objected, and Henkes decided against it after discussion with the court.
Henkes said the court needs to remember that Gakwa, not Hightman, is the victim in the case. He disagreed with the presentence investigation report that indicated Hightman was a candidate for probation, as some of Hightman’s statements have suggested he’s justifying his actions instead of taking responsibility for the crimes. While probation may be appropriate in an employment scenario or a one-time situation in which a defendant acted impulsively or was addicted to drugs, Hightman made several transactions on separate dates in an attempt to control Gakwa and seek revenge.
Henkes didn’t propose a number of years for a sentence for Hightman, but he said imprisonment was warranted.
In addition to the years in prison, Healy said that Hightman must pay $4,000 in fines and $2,000 in suspended fines, along with $200, per count, to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, and the $1,500 public defender fee. Probation terms include not making any threats, submitting to DNA testing, getting court permission to quit a job and completing a cognitive restructuring class.
Henkes said after the sentencing that he was unaware that detention center administration determined Hightman had to be separated from other inmates for his own safety. Hightman will go through intake in Torrington, where it’ll be determined which prison he goes to.
Hightman could have faced up to 23 years in prison and $23,000 in fines.
More than a dozen Gakwa supporters attended the sentencing.
Wainaina said he was relieved by the sentence Causey assigned. He thought it was fair.
Heidi Kennedy, who’s part of the group who’s searching for Irene, said she’s glad Hightman is getting time.
“It’s something, but we still don’t have Irene,” Irene’s sister-in-law Gyoice Gakwa said.
Gakwa’s family reported March 20, 2022, that she was missing.