By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
The first-degree murder conviction of a Fort Laramie man accused of stabbing another man to death has been upheld by Wyoming’s Supreme Court.
The court rejected arguments by Jamie Stuart that he should have been found incompetent to stand trial by reason of mental illness in the May 2018 stabbing death of Wade Erschabek.
“Although Mr. Snyder has a borderline personality disorder which could affect his capacity to conduct his defense in a rational manner … the evidence established his personality disorder was not affecting those abilities,” the ruling said. “Therefore, we conclude the (lower) court did not abuse its discretion when it found Mr. Snyder competent to proceed.”
According to the ruling, Snyder, who has a history of mental health issues, reported a burglary at his home on May 23, 2018, and he told authorities the title to his truck and his Social Security card were stolen.
Snyder suspected Erschabek in the burglary.
The next day, Erschabek and a friend encountered Snyder while driving through Fort Laramie. The ruling said Erschabek got out of his vehicle, walked to Snyder’s and began speaking to the man.
According to Erschabek’s friend, Snyder then exited his pickup truck holding a large black knife and lunged at Erschabek, stabbing him in the chest.
Erschabek died before emergency medical personnel could arrive at the scene.
After his arrest, Snyder offered several different accounts of the incident, finally claiming that he had stabbed Erschabek in self-defense and that Erschabek lunged at him and impaled himself on Snyder’s knife.
Snyder’s defense attorney asked that Snyder be examined to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. After an examination at the Wyoming State Hospital, a doctor determined that although Snyder might suffer from a “borderline personality disorder,” it would not interfere with his ability to mount a defense against the murder charge.
A jury found Snyder guilty of first-degree murder in February 2020 and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Although Snyder disagreed with the finding that he was competent to stand trial, justices unanimously found the lower court ruled correctly when it found him competent.
The court noted a second doctor retained by Snyder’s attorneys to determine his competence did not say Snyder was not competent to stand trial and generally agreed with the first doctor’s report.
Justices also rejected Snyder’s argument that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the stabbing was premeditated, which must be proven to convict someone on a charge of first-degree murder.
Justices said testimony during his trial revealed that Snyder had engaged in “planning activity” leading to Erschabek’s death, including starting to carry a knife in a holster on his chest. The ruling also noted that Snyder had indicated he had a grudge against Erschabek and told acquaintances a few days before the incident that Erschabek “needed to die.”
“Finally, there was evidence supporting a finding that the manner of killing was so exacting and particular to be indicative of premeditation,” the ruling said. “The jury had before it strong evidence that Mr. Snyder had a ‘preconceived design’ to take Mr. Erschabek’s life in a ‘particular way for a reason” and from which the jury could reasonably infer from his motive and planning activity.”