In the early morning hours of July 25, Samuel Renner was primed to kill someone, authorities said. It wasn’t necessarily Todd Callies.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys argued the legal definition of premeditation at Renner’s Thursday morning preliminary hearing in Natrona County Circuit Court. Could premeditation — a cause for a first-degree murder charge — be used if the defendant wanted to kill someone else?
Renner, 21, faces 11 charges for an alleged spree of threats and violence that spanned several hours. He is charged with the first-degree murder of 41-year-old Callies, the attempted first-degree murder of Stuart Campbell, seven charges of aggravated assault against a group of teenagers, and two counts of possession of a deadly weapon with unlawful intent. The seventh charge of aggravated assault was added after Renner’s initial appearance in court.
The defendant was present but silent throughout the hour-and-a-half-long hearing. The postage stamp-sized black eyes Renner wore at last week’s initial appearance were shrunken but still readily visible. He stole glances at the standing-room-only spectator gallery before proceedings began.
Assistant District Attorney Dan Itzen employed investigators from the Evansville Police Department and the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office to walk the courtroom through the night in question. He painted Renner as a volatile, intoxicated young man, eager to brawl with anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path.
According to Evansville Police Detective Sgt. Josh Bjorklund, Renner had been out with friends for a mini bachelor party earlier in the evening. Renner’s first altercation was with his fiancée while the two were outside Taylor’s Sports Bar in Evansville.
During the argument, a Campbell, a bar patron, said, in Renner’s words, “something smart” to the couple. Campbell would later tell investigators that this was something to the effect of “have a nice night.”
With this, investigators say, Renner put Campbell in a choke hold until Campbell could break free. Campbell responded by punching Renner in the face several times, “until he stopped with his aggressive actions,” according to an arrest affidavit.
At some point after the fight, Bjorklund said a waitress at Taylor’s went outside to speak to Renner.
“He was upset, angry and he wanted to know where the subject [Campbell] lived so he could go blow up his house,” Bjorklund relayed to the courtroom. Renner then switched gears and informed the waitress he was going to go get a gun and return to the bar, the detective said.
Renner and his fiancée left the bar and returned to his residence on the 300 block of King Street in Evansville. His fiancée later told officers she witnessed Renner retrieve his handgun and shoot it onto the ground on his property, according to the affidavit. She left the area and did not return.
But Renner wasn’t done for the night, investigators say.
Natrona County Sheriff’s Investigator David Hulshizer interviewed a group of several witnesses between the ages of 16 and 18 who were parked near the intersection of Curtis and Second streets in Evansville just before midnight.
A few of the teens were standing outside smoking when they were approached by what one girl described as a “zombie” walking down the street. The man, later identified as Renner, was bleeding from the nose, and, the witnesses soon realized, was carrying two firearms, Hulshizer said.
According to the witnesses’ account, Renner stopped at the vehicle, scanned each passenger with both guns, and said, “Do you want to die?” One of the female witnesses turned her head away and waved her arms as if to block what was happening: “No, no, no,” she said.
Renner additionally confronted one of the male witnesses who happened to know about firearms. The witness later told officials he first saw the gun’s red laser dot in the grass and then on his own chest.
“I’m looking for Scott,” Renner allegedly said. “I’m going to kill someone, is that all right with you?”
The group of youths managed to drive away and called 9-1-1. They were put on hold.
“This dude’s gonna massacre someone,” one of the witnesses said.
n n n
Renner made his way back to the Taylor’s Sports Bar parking lot, where Bjorklund says the defendant threatened more bystanders. Bjorklund said Renner placed the barrel of his gun between the eyes of one man and asked if he wanted to die.
It was then that Todd Callies walked out of the bar.
“I would imagine he saw Renner holding [them] at gunpoint,” Bjorklund said.
Bjorklund said Callies basically ran at Renner and Renner started moving. The investigator said Renner fired a weapon behind him before the other patrons, including Callies, wrestled Renner to the ground in the northeast corner of the parking lot. Two more shots were fired, Bjorklund said, striking Callies in the upper left chest. Renner fled.
According to the affidavit, police found a .40-caliber Springfield XD with a pistol-mounted laser sight and a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver in the parking lot. Witness accounts along with Renner’s credit card statement lead police to the defendant, who was arrested a few hours later while trying to flee from his home.
“When we look at the events, it becomes apparently clear that the defendant was out to kill,” Itzen said in a recap.
Renner’s defense attorney Kurt Infanger did not rebut any of the claims made by investigators but stressed that his client never announced his intent to kill Callies.
He additionally said there were no direct threats made against Campbell and stressed that Renner told the youths that he was looking for “Scott,” not Stuart.
“There has to be more than idle threats made,” Infanger said of premeditation. “That does not fit the facts of this case.”
Infanger argued that the state lacked sufficient probable cause to support first-degree murder, and asked the court not to bind over the homicide and attempted-homicide charges. Infanger did agree that there was enough evidence to move the other charges to District Court.
Itzen said there was more than ample evidence to support the two charges. Malice and intent can still be applied, even if another victim is killed, he said. Itzen added that there were 30 seconds between the first gunshot and the last — enough to prove premeditation.
Natrona County Circuit Judge Michael Patchen agreed with the state and bound all charges over to District Court.
Renner will plead guilty or not guilty to the charges at a later date.