In a November post we reported on the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a murder conviction in which the defendant, Gabriel Drennen, had argued a theory of self-defense. The Court found that Drennen’s opportunity for a fair trial was undermined by prosecutorial misconduct, which included misleading the jury when stating that it was illegal to shoot an unarmed man, referring to the deceased as “the victim” despite having been told by the judge to use his name throughout the trial, and arguing unsupported claims as facts, such as that Drennen assaulted the deceased first.
In a fairly extraordinary statement from the Fremont County Attorney’s office, County Attorney Michael Bennett said he has dismissed the murder charges against Drennen, finding that his claim of self-defense is corroborated by the forensic evidence in the case and should have been heeded by his office sooner.
County 10 reports:
The heart of the matter, Bennett said in an interview, is that based on additional forensic evidence he believes Drennen acted in self defense. The new evidence of burn patterns on Hoster’s skin show him to be closer to Drennen than originally stated in trial and an analysis of the ejection patterns of the bullet casings gave a more clear picture of the scene. Bennett also said a national study on gun shot numbers in self-defense cases show that the amount of bullets fired doesn’t necessarily equate to malice. Drennen was shot four times.
He said the Supreme Court’s decision, along with the evidence, shows that Drennen lawfully possessed the firearm when he went to the crime scene, and that he was lawful in attempting to post a no trespassing sign.
“Justice demands the law be applied equally to all citizens,” Bennett said. “The law regarding self-defense is clear, requiring the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gabriel Drennen did not act in self-defense. A prosecutor may only bring those cases to trial that he reasonably believes will prevail. If, as the Supreme Court indicates, Gabriel Drennen’s actions leading up to the shooting were lawful then it is unethical to paint them as illegal. The State cannot bend the evidence in a case to punish lawful behavior and deny a person the full protections of the law.”
When asked why he declined to let the case go to trial and have a jury decide Drennen’s fate, Bennett said he could not ethically ask the jury to disregard the law and base their decisions on sympathy and emotions.
“My office has the obligation to ensure justice is available to all citizens,” he continued in his statement. “To that end, the law and the evidence in this case support Mr. Drennen’s actions under self-defense. While he may be condemned in the court of public opinion for his decisions, the same will not be true for his actions in a court of law.”
Bennett assumed the position of County Prosecutor in March of this year, two years after Drennen was taken to trial. Just two weeks after his swearing in, Bennett parted ways with his Deputy County Prosecutor, Kathy Kavanagh, who was over the Drennen case. Though media reports do not reveal the reason for Kavanagh’s departure, Bennett certainly didn’t make an effort to back her up in his statements about the Drennen prosecution, stating:
“This review shows a prosecution based on disregard for the evidence, the law, and this office’s commitment to justice.”
According to the Star Tribune, Bennett’s motion has been approved by Ninth District Court Judge Norman Young, who was expected to file the ruling last week.