The conviction of a woman accused of being an accessory in a man’s 2018 death in a Sundance convenience store was overturned Friday by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
The court ordered a new trial for Marty May Smith, convicted in the death of Douglas Haar in August 2018, finding the jury in her trial was not properly instructed to consider that her actions occurred as she tried to defend another person.
According to the ruling, Smith had been having drinks with Haar, her ex-boyfriend, and Jessie Johnson, her boyfriend at the time of the incident, on July 31, 2018.
After leaving a Sundance bar, the three went to a convenience store, where Haar began yelling at Johnson. Video recordings from the store showed that for about 10 minutes, Smith tried to remove Haar from the store and frequently stood between the two men, the opinion said.
The opinion said Haar moved “aggressively” toward Johnson and Smith tried twice to get between the men and was pushed to the floor by Haar.
While Smith was on the floor, Haar threw a punch at Johnson, Johnson returned the punch and the two men fell to the floor. Haar ended up on top of Smith and Johnson put him in a chokehold. When Haar tried to use his free hand to hit Johnson, Smith held the arm.
When Johnson released Haar, the man remained on the floor. Smith and Johnson, believing Haar had passed out, left the store.
Police called to break up the altercation arrived to find Haar dead. Smith and Johnson were arrested when they returned to the store to pick up Smith’s purse.
Johnson, who was charged with second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, was found not guilty by the jury in his trial.
Smith, however, was found guilty of being an accessory to involuntary manslaughter and accessory to aggravated assault and battery.
In her appeal, Smith argued the jury in her case should have been allowed to consider the theory that she was defending another person from imminent harm or death, a form of self-defense. The district court rejected the idea, saying it appeared Smith had been the aggressor in the incident.
But the Supreme Court, in the opinion written by Chief Justice Michael Davis, said the video recordings from the convenience store showed that Smith was trying to stop a confrontation between Haar and Johnson.
“The video of Ms. Smith … shows that each time she used physical force, she was either pushing Mr. Haar toward the exit and away from Mr. Johnson or intervening between Mr. Haar and Mr. Johnson …” it said.
As a result, the jury should have been allowed to consider that Smith may have been acting to defend another person during the fight.
“A future jury might very well view the evidence differently, but given the inferences to which Ms. Smith was entitled, the evidence was sufficient to require that the question of whether she was an initial aggressor should have been submitted to a jury,” the ruling said.