The New Zealand woman accused of killing her fiancé on a ranch near Afton, Wyoming, is asking the court to dismiss the second-degree murder charge she faces, saying she acted in self-defense.
The Lincoln County Attorney’s Office charged Monique Huia Sullivan with second-degree murder four months ago, after Sullivan’s fiancé died Feb. 20 of a single stab wound to his left side.
Sullivan and her fiancé Andrew Jacob Moore had been working in a crew of other New Zealand sheep shearers on the Taliaferro Ranch on Country Road 310 outside of Afton, according to an evidentiary affidavit filed in the case.
Sullivan and Moore went into one of the shearer’s campers and drank alcohol with the others, the affidavit says. The conversation turned combative, and Sullivan went to her own camper to calm down.
When Moore joined her there later, the pair started arguing and Sullivan stabbed him in the side, the affidavit alleges.
‘Powder Keg Of Anger’
Michael Bennett, Sullivan’s defense attorney, asked the court last week to dismiss the second-degree murder charge against Sullivan.
Bennett said Sullivan acted in self-defense and that Moore had been verbally and physically abusive toward her for months.
“Fueled by the almost daily consumption of copious amounts of alcohol, (Moore) was a powder keg of anger,” wrote Bennett.
Bennett alleged that Moore would strangle Sullivan while they fought, and had done so multiple times before his Feb. 20 death.
“Our argument got physical and he choked me,” Sullivan had texted to her girlfriends in September 2022, along with a photograph of her own bruised neck, Bennett alleges in his filing.
The pair broke up after that incident, the filing continues, but they got back together a few days later.
Moore proposed to Sullivan on New Year’s Eve 2022 and gave her a wedding ring, Bennett wrote, adding that everything escalated after that.
“He kept isolating Ms. Sullivan from her friends and family, demanding that she join him in the United States to work on a sheep shearing crew,” wrote Bennett. “He weaponized her engagement ring” by threatening to take it away if she didn’t obey his orders, “dictating the clothing she should wear, her eating habits and her weight.”
They got into the United States in early February and bought a pickup to pull a fifth-wheel camper meant to become their home as they worked in Wyoming, Idaho and Utah. But poor weather, mechanical difficulties and bad directions starting about Feb. 18 created what Bennett called tension between the two.
Moore’s anger toward Sullivan grew, the filing alleges.
The Games We Play
They got to the Taliaferro ranch Feb. 19, the evening before Moore’s death. Moore seethed toward Sullivan, the filing says.
Sullivan was trying to back up the truck and camper combination at the ranch that evening, Bennett claimed in his filing, and Moore berated her with obscenities then physically pulled her out from behind the wheel of the truck in a fit of anger.
They later went to the other shearers’ camper for drinks, and the atmosphere was festive at first. But as people got drunker, one of the male shearers started “harassing” his girlfriend Stacy Hikawai, according to Bennett’s filing.
The filing says Sullivan was accustomed to watching the man do this; he couched it as “good-natured teasing.”
Sullivan “knew” Moore would start in on her next, Bennett wrote.
“This was the game (the two men) like to play while intoxicated,” the filing claims.
Sullivan left for her own camper to relax alone. The filing says Hikawai soon came to Sullivan’s camper in tears, saying her boyfriend had hit her.
They talked about the incident until Hikawai passed out on the sofa in Sullivan’s camper.
Sullivan went to the other camper to talk to her fiancé, Moore, privately. They spoke briefly outside, then went to their own camper.
This One Motion
The discussion revived in Sullivan and Moore’s own camper.
Moore got angry, stood up from the camper table and confronted Sullivan in what Bennett called “a menacing manner.”
“Are you going to choke me again?” Sullivan asked, according to the filing.
Moore allegedly pushed Sullivan to the floor of the camper, and she tried to get to her feet. He charged toward her, says the filing.
Sullivan looked up from where she was on the floor and saw the handle of a kitchen knife protruding off the stove counter. She grabbed it and made one motion toward Moore to stop him from advancing on her, the filing says.
“This one motion while trying to regain her footing during this physical assault resulted in one stab wound that ultimately proved fatal for (Moore),” wrote Bennett.
The autopsy conclusion was that Moore died of a single upward stab wound to the left side of his lower chest, between his ribs.
Let’s All Go To The Hospital
Hikawai woke from her slumber on the couch just in time to hear Moore say “why did you do that?”
Then Hikawai saw blood gushing from Moore’s side and noticed blood on Sullivan’s hands and a large bloody kitchen knife on the counter, according to the evidentiary affidavit authorities filed to support the second-degree murder charge.
Hikawai fled the trailer to get help. Other crew members put Moore in a pickup and took him to the South Lincoln Medical Center in Kemmerer, where he died.
Emergency personnel took Sullivan to Utah for her own surgery on a stab wound to her wrist.
Wyoming law protects people from facing murder charges if they’ve acted in self-defense.
A person who uses reasonable defensive force shall not be criminally prosecuted, Bennett quoted from state law.
People are justified to use defensive force if they’re in situations where a reasonable person in those circumstances would judge such force necessary to prevent serious injury or death, regardless of whether the threat of danger is real or apparent.
If the necessity arises “from an honest belief that the danger exists,” the person can be justified under the law, Bennett noted.
Moore isolated Sullivan socially and financially, Bennett’s filing alleges. The defense attorney wrote that Moore tried to control every facet of Sullivan’s life, from her clothing choices, her eating habits to her weight, and “constantly bombarded” her with criticism and belittlement, Bennett wrote.
The filing says Moore made Sullivan move to areas where she couldn’t be self-sufficient and would have to rely in part on his income. Then he started strangling her, the filing claims.
“Sullivan used the defensive force she deemed necessary to prevent further injury to herself,” wrote Bennett, adding that she made a single stab wound, “when she could have stabbed (Moore) multiple times.”
Moore’s anger, drunkenness and what Bennett called a “predisposition” toward abusing Sullivan make her stabbing justifiable under the reasonable person standard, the attorney argues in his filing.
The filing claims further that because the camper was Sullivan’s home, she had no duty to retreat from the attack under Wyoming law.
Bennett asked Lincoln County District Court Judge Joseph Bluemel to dismiss the second-degree murder charge “with prejudice,” meaning prosecutors couldn’t bring it again if it’s dismissed.
Bluemel set a July hearing to consider arguments for and against Bennett’s motion.
Sullivan pleaded not guilty in March.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.