The Wyoming Supreme Court has agreed to review prosecutors’ appeal in a murder case that a Natrona County judge dismissed on the basis of a new Wyoming law.
In a Tuesday morning filing in the court’s public docket, the court agreed to take up a request filed by the Wyoming Attorney General’s office in March. In that request, the state’s lawyers had asked the court to review Judge Catherine Wilking’s dismissal of the first-degree murder case against Jason T. John, of Casper, who shot and killed Wesley Willow in a north Casper trailer park last year.
Assistant Attorney General Samuel Williams and Natrona County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Taheri argued in their request for review that Wilking misapplied the law when she dismissed the case against John. They also asked the appellate court to determine whether courts are legally entitled to dismiss cases on the basis of the law’s immunity provision and, if so, by what procedure and standard.
The Natrona County District Attorney’s office in August charged John with the single felony after he shot and killed Willow at his north Casper trailer. John’s attorney, Tim Cotton, argued that a law instituted by Wyoming lawmakers about a month before the shooting protected John from prosecution.
In the first judicial test of the new law, which expanded Wyoming’s self-defense doctrines, Wilking dismissed the case but noted the dearth of Wyoming case law to inform her decision.
Wilking decided to hold the February hearing after reviewing how implementation of such laws has been handled in other states and likewise determined that the hearing should require prosecutors show probable cause that John was not justified by law in his use of force. The judge ruled the new law required her to presume that Willow, who ran into John’s house before John shot him, intended to break the law forcefully, and to presume John had a reasonable and honest belief that he had to use deadly force. She ruled prosecutors did not overcome those presumptions in the hearing, and John was therefore immune from prosecution.
In the state’s March filing, attorneys argued John agreed to fight Willow, goaded him into a confrontation and prepared for that confrontation. The state also noted that John continued firing at Willow after he was already incapacitated.
The attorneys states the law exempting a person from a duty to retreat does not apply to John because it requires he not be involved in illegal activity or be the aggressor in the altercation.
In an early-April response, Cotton said a police detective lied and prosecutors misconstrued facts in an attempt to convict John. He said prosecutors attempted to dodge the new law in the case.
In the filing, Cotton argued the state’s highest court should keep in place Wilking’s decision to dismiss the charge. Cotton asked the court to only consider the hearing process that Wilking implemented in February and to not consider overturning the dismissal.
Cotton said in March that he would cede John’s representation to the state public defender’s appellate division when the appellate court took up the case. The Tuesday filing did not specify if the court would circumscribe the issues it considers in the case.