By Shane Sanderson
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — A Casper man facing a first-degree murder charge asked a judge last month to throw out the case, citing a Wyoming law just a month old at the time of shooting.
Jason T. John’s attorney, Tim Cotton, argues that Wyoming’s new “stand your ground” law,which became effective July 1, means his client should not have been charged and the case should be dismissed. The new law has not yet faced a test in court, according to Cotton’s December filing.
The filing also lays out Cotton’s understanding of Wesley Willow’s death in August, when John shot him in a Casper trailer park. Cotton indicates that Willow attempted to assault John and he acted in self-defense by shooting Willow nine times.
District Attorney Dan Itzen told the Star-Tribune on Wednesday afternoon that he had filed a response. Because it had not yet been processed into court computers, it was not available for this story. Itzen characterized his filing in general terms, saying he did not believe John was statutorily entitled to a dismissal hearing on the grounds cited by Cotton.
Cotton declined Wednesday afternoon to comment for this story.
According to Cotton’s version of events, John’s girlfriend spent the early morning hours of Aug. 3 with Wesley Willow Jr. — the father of her child — and another man, celebrating her birthday. Although a court had told Willow not to contact the woman, he disregarded the order, according to documents Cotton filed in December.
John sent the woman a text message, which she showed to Willow, the documents state. Willow and John then engaged in a series of text messages and at least one phone call, according to the documents. The contents of the call and messages are not made clear in Cotton’s documents.
However, a detective’s court filings made shortly after the shooting states John texted the woman’s cell phone at 3:54 a.m., saying he would “blow you away.” Five texts sent about 10 minutes later ask where the other people are and state “I’m waiting,” and “I’m ready.”
After the text exchange, Willow told the third man he wanted to fight John, according to Cotton’s December filings. The three celebrants drove to John’s home in a north Casper trailer park.
When Willow arrived, he was drunk, and his blood-alcohol content measured at an autopsy was nearly three times the legal limit, according to Cotton.
Cotton states there is no evidence his client either “challenged or offered to fight” Willow.
When they arrived, John came out of his house holding a rifle with a flashlight attached. He pointed it at Willow and, after a conversation, John went back into the house as Willow approached with a knife, according to the documents. As Willow ran into the home, John fired his AR-15 nine times, killing Willow.
Cotton states in his filings that it was reasonable for John to believe Willow intended to hurt or kill him. Because John was in his own home, Cotton writes, and because he was defending himself, the new Wyoming law does not allow prosecutors to charge John.
Prosecutors violated John’s rights by bringing charges against him, Cotton wrote. The law favors John, according to Cotton, and Judge Catherine Wilking should dismiss the case: “The state of Wyoming is obligated to follow the law — even when it does not agree with it.”