(Lander, Wyo.) – Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett has filed a motion to dismiss all charges against Gabriel Drennen. The motion has yet to be approved by Ninth District Court Judge Norman E. Young.
Drennen was serving a life sentence for the first degree murder conviction regarding the 2010 shooting death of Leroy Hoster. He was convicted in 2011 by a jury, but the Wyoming Supreme Court overturned the conviction this October due to prosecutorial misconduct and sent it back to Fremont County for a new trial. Drennen was charged with First Degree Murder and Aggravated Assault and Battery. Earlier this week, an amended information charged him with Possession, Manufacture, or Disposition of Deadly Weapon with Unlawful Intent.
“Since this (Supreme Court) decision, my office has renewed the legal analysis of this entire matter,” Bennett wrote in a release. “This review shows a prosecution based on disregard for the evidence, the law, and this office’s commitment to justice.”
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.”
Kami Spencer, the mother of Hoster’s child, said she and other members of the victim’s family, along with Mike Adams who was present at the shooting, met with Bennett this afternoon.
“I’m totally pissed off,” she said of Bennett’s decision. “I don’t see how he thinks he can’t get a conviction.”
She said the family was very upset about his decision to dismiss the charges, and Spencer said she told Bennett that “he was full of s***.”
Spencer said the family has not had a chance to decide how they might continue to fight the case.
Bennett said his decision to drop the charges does not equate to a license to kill for the county.
“As I continue to remain a staunch proponent of the Second Amendment, I must urge all gun owners to acknowledge the tremendous responsibility that comes with possessing firearms,” he said. “While the Constitution guarantees this right, the use of a firearm demands a heightened level of scrutiny under the law. Allegations of criminal activity, whether by use of firearm or otherwise, will continue to be carefully analyzed by my office and charging decisions will be made accordingly, based on the facts of each case and the law.”