A Casper man accused of firing a gun inside Wyoming Medical Center earlier this year will not be allowed to present evidence he was high on LSD at the time, a judge ruled Monday.
Mitchell D. Taylor, 20, is scheduled to go to trial next week on three felony charges related to the March shooting. He pleaded not guilty to the four counts prosecutors charged him with and — following the Monday morning dismissal of a single count of possession of a deadly weapon with unlawful intent — faces two counts of aggravated assault and a single count of property destruction, for which he is set to go to trial on July 15.
By the conclusion of Monday’s 80-minute hearing, Judge Daniel Forgey had prohibited court-appointed defense attorney Joe Cole from presenting to jurors the defense claim that Taylor was high on a hallucinogenic drug when police arrested him. Although Cole argued that demonstrating Taylor’s LSD use to a jury would — along with statements he made to police that he thought he was dead and fired the gun to determine if he was alive — help explain his actions, the judge sided with prosecutors’ and determined any evidence at trial of drug use would confuse jurors.
In March, police arrested Taylor in a hallway of Wyoming Medical Center following reports of gunshots near the Casper hospital’s main lobby. Nobody was physically injured. Prosecutors charged him with four felonies the next day. A judge set Taylor’s bond at a half-million dollars and he has remained in jail awaiting trial since.
On Monday, Taylor and Cole appeared in court to address a series of requests brought to the judge by prosecutors Kevin Taheri and Dan Itzen, who sought to disallow the drug evidence. Once Taheri had requested — and received — dismissal of the weapon charge, Taylor found himself facing no charges covered by a Wyoming law that in certain circumstances allows a person to cite intoxication as a defense.
Cole argued, however, that the judge should allow jurors to hear Taylor’s LSD use in order to understand the defendant’s state of mind. He said Taylor’s perception would be relevant for jurors to determine whether Taylor had threatened people, as the aggravated assault charges allege.
Taheri then told the judge that the Wyoming Legislature had implicitly dismissed Cole’s argument when drafting the law governing intoxication as a defense; lawmakers decided that people who willingly intoxicate themselves are still responsible for their actions. The prosecutor asked Forgey to disregard Cole’s argument.
“It’s irrelevant by statute and not a defense,” Taheri said.
The judge then left the courtroom briefly. When he returned, he ruled in favor of the prosecution and forbade Cole from raising the issue at trial.
“I’ll evoke the old expression that the leopard can’t change it’s spots,” Forgey said. “This evidence is still evidence of voluntary intoxication.”
A series of requests planned for the hearing were then quickly dispatched. Taheri withdrew another request — under a different procedure — seeking to circumscribe admission of drug evidence. And he deemed a request to limit expert testimony on the issue irrelevant. Forgey agreed, and declined to rule on the additional requests.
Once Forgey had finished handling the questions surrounding LSD evidence, Cole told the judge that he had not yet been granted all the evidence he needs for trial. He said security video provided by prosecutors appeared incomplete and he did not have an accurate hospital floor plan, despite the medical center saying it had given the diagram to prosecutors. Cole said the hospital had threatened to call the police if he went to the building to diagram the hallway on his own.
Taheri then told the judge that he had turned over all the evidence the hospital had provided the district attorney’s office. He said he would renew requests for more information.
Forgey concluded the hearing and Taylor — watched by an audience of one — conversed in whispers with his lawyer before a sheriff’s deputy opened a door to a hallway that leads from the courtroom toward a holding cell.