A jury convicted a Casper man of two counts of aggravated assault Wednesday for opening fire in March inside of Wyoming Medical Center.
Mitchell Taylor, 20, was accused of pointing a gun at two employees in the facility and firing a total of seven times. Taylor testified July 17 in his own defense and was adamant that he did not threaten anyone.
The seven women and five men who made up Taylor’s jury decided differently. They deliberated for less than 90 minutes before finding that Taylor had threatened two WMC employees, a housekeeper and a doctor.
Taylor testified earlier in the day that he had driven to the hospital because he thought he was dying and that he didn’t see signs pointing him to the emergency room. He entered the hospital before 1 a.m. March 4, through the ER doors. But he walked past the entrance to the department and down a hallway, eventually finding himself at a bank of elevators. It was there that he encountered the housekeeper and doctor.
Taylor bowed his head slightly as the jury filed in and the clerk began reading the verdict. After the clerk read out that the 20-year-old was guilty on the first charge of aggravated assault, his supporters — who filled two rows in the courtroom — visibly recoiled. As the rest of the verdict was read, Taylor nodded his head slightly, and a woman who identified herself as his grandmother put her hands over her face and began to cry.
Outside of the courthouse, Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen said he was happy with the verdict and called it a tough case. Defense attorney Joseph Cole declined to comment as he left the courtroom.
Taylor pleaded guilty last week to destroying property within Wyoming Medical Center, admitting that he opened fire March 4 in the facility.
In previous court appearances, Taylor had said he was high on LSD and suicidal when he walked into the hospital early that morning. A judge had barred the defense from presenting evidence Taylor was high on LSD at the time, deciding that it would confuse the jurors.
Another charge against Taylor, possession of a deadly weapon with unlawful intent, was previously dismissed.
Itzen declined to comment on sentencing. Taylor still has to be sentenced for the property destruction conviction, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Each aggravated assault conviction also carries a maximum punishment of 10 years.
Before the jury entered the courtroom and before Taylor took the stand at around 11 a.m. Wednesday, Cole made another attempt at getting some description of Taylor’s drug use in front of the jury.
Judge Daniel Forgey had repeatedly denied the attorney’s efforts. Cole had argued that Taylor’s use of LSD explained both his mental state and why he was at the hospital in the first place. Otherwise, Cole argued, the state could say that Taylor was there “people hunting.”
But Forgey again rejected the request.
When he took the stand, Taylor testified that he went to WMC to seek medical attention because he was panicked. He said he “didn’t see the signs” that pointed him toward the ER and that indicated that weapons were prohibited on hospital grounds.
“I’m not allowed to say why,” he told Cole.
Itzen, the prosecutor, rose to object, and Taylor apologized. He said that he was wandering the halls of WMC “trying to find someone, a person” to help him.
Cole played the surveillance footage of Taylor, which the state walked through Tuesday. As Taylor lies down in front of a bank of elevators in the video, Cole paused the video and asked his client what he was doing.
“I was trying to lay down and relax,” he said. “I hadn’t found anybody in the hospital.”
As the video showed Taylor rolling over and appearing to talk to himself, Cole again asked him what he was doing.
“I was dying,” the 20-year-old replied. “I really, truly believed that.”
Asked who he was talking to, Taylor said he was “trying to talk to God or anybody listening.”
Taylor’s face on the video contorts, and it appears that he’s screaming.
“At this point, I was yelling and screaming,” he testified. “’Am I really dead, is this for real?’”
In the audience, Taylor’s grandmother wept silently and dabbed her eyes.
The video showed Taylor beginning to unzip the black jacket he was wearing. He then reaches into his coat and pulls out a gun — a 9 mm Springfield with an extended magazine. He testified that he didn’t realize he had his gun until that moment.
“At this point, I’m thinking about shooting myself and where I could do it, where it might hurt the least,” he testified, adding that he “figured if I shot myself, it might help, as ridiculous as that sounds.” The video showed him racking the gun and putting a round in the chamber. “That was the moment I decided to fire the weapon, for sure.”
On the video, Taylor suddenly stands up from his crouching position and sheds his jacket. He testified that he heard a “Godawful noise” — almost certainly the housekeeper pushing her cart down the hallway toward him — and it “scared the hell out of me.”
Taylor testified that he then said, “What the f—- was that?” On Tuesday, the housekeeper testified — and insisted — that Taylor asked her “what she was looking at.”
Taylor had the gun raised, and the housekeeper previously testified that the weapon was aimed in her direction and might’ve hit her in the leg if Taylor had pulled the trigger at that moment. Instead, she ran down the hall, and Taylor testified that he was going to sit back down and “disregard what he saw.” He later told Cole that he thought the housekeeper was a mannequin but that he saw her for less than a second before she ran away.
After the housekeeper fled, Taylor is out of the view of the camera. He testified that he was holding the gun to his leg, preparing to shoot himself, when he decided to shoot the wall instead.
After putting a bullet into the drywall, he stood up, leveled the gun again and fired several times down a hallway. Taylor testified that he had no idea anyone was near the hallway. But a doctor had briefly stood in the hallway a few moments before and had ducked away after hearing the first shot, the one fired into the corner.
The doctor’s movements were the source of significant disagreement between Cole and the prosecution. Cole argued that the doctor had testified that he was down the hall and away from Taylor by the time Taylor opened fire in the direction the doctor had been standing. But the prosecutors, citing time-stamped video evidence, said the doctor was standing there when Taylor was shooting in that direction.
In any case, Taylor testified that he didn’t know why he was shooting down the hall.
“At that point, I was just shooting a gun, you know?” he told Cole on the stand.
After firing a total of seven rounds, Taylor dropped his gun and walked off. He eventually entered a tunnel, which led to another building on WMC’s campus. It was there that the police found and arrested him.
Taylor testified that he didn’t remember screaming “kill me” at the police, as one officer said he had. He does remember asking officers if he’d shot anybody, and when told he hadn’t, he remembers saying, “That’s what I figured.”
While he was on the stand, Taylor told Cole that he asked the police that because officers had been telling him he’d shot at people and that he didn’t remember seeing anybody, let alone shooting at anyone.
Prosecutors push back
Itzen then rose to question Taylor. He took seven evidence bags — each containing one of the shell casings from the bullets Taylor had fired — and presented them to Taylor.
“It’s spent because you pulled the trigger, correct?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” Taylor replied.
Itzen asked him why he hadn’t asked the housekeeper, who was wearing what looked like bright-blue scrubs, for help, if Taylor had come to the hospital looking for medical attention.
Taylor replied that he didn’t realize he’d even seen the housekeeper and that he didn’t see a single sign throughout his time in the hospital. He later reiterated that he was’t aware he encountered anybody.
“I know I didn’t aim at anybody,” he said. “I know I didn’t shoot at anybody because I didn’t see anybody.”
The prosecution — and, ultimately, 12 jurors — disagreed. In his closing argument, prosecutor Kevin Taheri said that Taylor walked into a public hospital and started shooting a gun. To believe that he hadn’t shot at the doctor, Taheri continued, the jury would have to believe that the cameras’ time stamps were off, that what the video showed wasn’t real.
Using the time stamps as evidence, he told the jury that Taylor shot down the hallway four times in six seconds, the same six seconds that another camera angle shows the doctor standing there.
“He just coincidentally did it when the doctor entered the hallway, and (he) stopped shooting when the doctor was gone,” Taheri said.
The witnesses may be wrong, he continued. The doctor, for instance, testified that he heard the shots after he was safely out of the line of fire.
“But those cameras, they catch exactly what happened,” the prosecutor said. “They’re not emotional, they’re not traumatized, and they’re not biased.”
Cole, the defense attorney, didn’t think it was the cameras who were biased. He told the jury in his closing statement that the bias came from elsewhere. He noted that on Tuesday, the state had asked David Hulshizer, the hospital’s head of security, to walk them through the videos. It was Hulshizer who had provided the footage to police.
Hulshizer’s security “dropped the ball and kicked it down the road” on the night of the shooting, Cole told the jury, apparently referring to the fact that no one saw or stopped Taylor when he walked in through the ER entrance and proceeded into the hospital.
Cole then said that Hulshizer had a “great deal at stake” in the trial, suggesting that the cameras’ timestamps may have been manipulated. (Prosecutors rejected this suggestion, and no evidence was presented at trial to suggest the footage had been manipulated.)
“There’s no way on earth that they coordinate,” Cole said, referring to how the timestamps of the cameras show Taylor shooting down the hallway at the same time that the doctor is there, despite the doctor and Taylor’s testimonies.
Taylor “had no interest in hurting anybody. He had no interest in threatening anybody,” Cole continued. He was panicked and thought he was dead.
“So he did the damn stupidest thing a 20-year-old has ever done in this town,” the attorney told the jury.
In several weeks, Taylor will learn what sentence he will have to serve for it. He can be punished by as many as 30 years for the three charges on which he has now been convicted.
Before the jury handed down its verdict, Cole walked out to Taylor’s family and friends, who filled two rows in the courtroom. He whispered quietly to them, telling them not to react regardless of the verdict. He thanked them for coming.
As the jury filed in, Taylor looked back at the audience, his face tight. After the verdict was read and he was being escorted out of the courtroom, he again looked back at the audience, giving them a small smile before being led through a security door.