Man Convicted of Shooting Wyoming Trooper 37 Years Ago Loses Third Appeal

in News/Wyoming Supreme Court

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man convicted of attempted first-degree murder for shooting a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer in 1985 has lost his third attempt to overturn his conviction and life sentence.

Wyoming Supreme Court justices on Thursday unanimously rejected the appeal filed by Joseph Newton Best, saying his claims that his sentence is illegal were improperly filed.

Best was convicted of shooting Trooper Larry Szabo twice in an incident near Arlington and was sentenced to prison “for the remainder of his natural life.”

Best argued his sentence is illegal because the word “natural” does not appear in state laws describing sentencing for the crime of attempted first-degree murder.

But the justices ruled that Best’s challenge to his sentence could have been brought much earlier in the process that had seen him bring two previous unsuccessful appeals to the Supreme Court.

“Mr. Best could have raised his arguments concerning the validity of his conviction and sentence on direct appeal or in his motion for a new trial,” the court’s opinion said. “He did not.”

In his previous appeals, Best argued unsuccessfully in 1987 that his conviction should have been overturned because the trial court did not suppress the statements he made to police after he declined to have an attorney present during questioning. 

In 1989, justices rejected his arguments that he should have been granted a new trial because of new information that became available when Szabo filed a civil lawsuit seeking damages against, among others, the manufacturer of his holster. Best argued statements included in Szabo’s lawsuit provided new evidence showing that Best had acted in self defense. 

Justices disagreed.

“We are of the opinion that testimony … would not be evidence that would lead a reasonable man to conclude it was necessary for (Best) to shoot the officer in self-defense,” the 1989 opinion said.

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