A 21-year-old Cheyenne man who was accused of shooting up a stranger’s Chevy truck from his driveway this spring was found not guilty of assault, after a trial jury acquitted him Wednesday.
Jason Lyle Jr. was driving home the evening of April 29 through a web of dirt roads northeast of Cheyenne when he passed another vehicle – quickly. Later statements indicated his driving was erratic.
Suddenly, three vehicles surrounded him. A jacked-up white Toyota Tacoma with a front-end winch rammed the rear of Lyle’s little black Mazda Miata, shaving off his spoiler, he told Cowboy State Daily in a Friday interview.
Lyle’s father Jason Lyle Sr. also joined the interview.
The man driving the Tacoma fired at least five shots at “Junior” during the demolition-derby chase on dirt country roads, the pair said.
They’re Shooting At Me
Frantically, Junior called his sister Molly and said he’d been rear-ended and was under gunfire, the case affidavit relates.
Molly and her boyfriend were already on their way to the Lyle house in a separate vehicle after the three had hung out earlier that evening.
Junior told his sister to find a gun in the house. She thought he was joking at first, but as the seriousness of his tone settled on her, she fumbled around for the house for a gun and couldn’t find one, she tearfully recalled during the trial.
Surveillance footage from that time shows Molly walking out to retrieve a cellphone from the car in the driveway. She appears to answer the phone while casually standing in the driveway, then she pivots and runs back into the house about 6 seconds later.
Get The Rifle
Junior made it back to his parents’ home on Four Mile Road, where he also lives. He parked, rushed out of his car and ran for his home, leaving the headlights on and the driver’s side door open.
His sister held the door open to hurry him inside.
He retrieved his SKS rifle from the home and went back outside.
The Tacoma didn’t stick around, but a grey Chevy Silverado was still in his driveway and a Lexus Gx470 SUV was behind it, he said.
Court documents filed three months later say the husband and wife in the Silverado claimed they didn’t know that was Junior’s home, and they were worried for the people inside the home given Junior’s driving pattern.
The Lyles’ home surveillance footage shows the blare of headlights from the stranger’s truck and Junior running outside with a rifle, his own shadow in the porch light preceding him into the driveway.
Molly, barefoot in a summer dress, came out behind her brother and waved her arms as if to confront the occupants of the truck.
“I told them to leave and they wouldn’t leave. I shot at them. I disabled their car,” Junior recalled, speaking of the Silverado.
Neither person in the truck was hit.
Junior fired at the Silverado, prompting the driver to speed backward out of the driveway and bolt east on Four Mile Road. Bullets hit the radiator and a wheel rim.
Junior went back into the home and exited without his rifle. He, his sister and his sister’s boyfriend then went into the field with flashlights and picked up objects, the affidavit relates from additional surveillance footage of the incident.
Then Junior put his car in the barn, closed the barn door and sat down with his sister and her boyfriend in the driveway. The three can be seen fist-bumping on the footage, according to the affidavit.
Meanwhile, the driver of the Chevy called 911.
Brass And Spoiler
Investigators arrived on scene.
Junior later rode with a Laramie County Sheriff’s Office deputy to the approximate area of the car chase to look for the lost spoiler and spent bullets. The deputy had explosives detection K-9 Deputy Arek search the area. Arek didn’t alert on anything; there were no shell casings on the ground.
The deputy searched at Archer Road and Glencoe Drive, said Junior, who reportedly told the deputy at the time that he wasn’t sure if that was the right spot.
Junior’s dad, Lyle Senior, was on a work trip during the shooting. He went to the intersection of Sherry and Stewart Roads to investigate as soon as he got home May 1, he said.
There he found five spent 9 mm shells — and a black spoiler.
Lyle Senior shot photographs and called the sheriff’s office. It took a while to get a deputy out there and the dad was careful not to touch the evidence while he waited, he said.
“When they finally did come, they found even more brass than I did,” Lyle Senior said. He said the Tacoma was jacked up high enough to shave off the spoiler and grind an imprint of its winch into the Mazda’s trunk without busting the little car’s taillights.
The judge would later call the scar from the winch “particularized crease damage,” the dad related.
The Laramie County District Attorney’s Office charged Lyle Junior with two counts of aggravated assault – one for each occupant of the truck he disabled with his rifle shots. Aggravated assault is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Lyle Junior had not been charged with a felony before, and he dreaded the thought of being convicted of one, he told Cowboy State Daily. Besides spending a maximum of 20 years in prison (which, however, would be an unlikely sentence considering his youth and lack of serious criminal history), a conviction would mean he’d lose his gun and voting rights, as well as the right to sit on a jury and hold public office.
“I was pretty nervous,” Lyle Jr. said of that months-long prosecution.
The young man’s dad called the monthslong prosecution “nerve-wracking.”
Standing Your Ground
But between the day the charges dropped and Aug. 3, a few vital shreds of evidence surfaced.
The family hired Devon Petersen as defense attorney, and they worked with a private investigator.
“Two independent witnesses — Crystal O’Dell and Eugene Swainey — heard five to six gunshots that sounded like they were fired from a pistol” the night of the car chase, Petersen wrote in an Aug. 3 motion to dismiss the case on self-defense grounds.
Petersen drew attention to Lyle Junior’s calls to his sister while he was under gunfire. He then referenced three more eyewitnesses who had come forward, saying they saw multiple cars chasing young Lyle around the neighborhood.
“Jason’s car suffered significant damage as a result of being chased and rammed off the road,” the motion says. “(He) was afraid for his life.”
The vehicles drove onto Lyle Junior’s property and blasted the home with their brights, Petersen wrote.
“He showed them he had a rifle and they still did not leave,” the motion continues. “Finally, Jason Lyle, who is an extremely accurate shot with a rifle … fired two rounds into the front part of the lead vehicle, and not toward the cab. Only then did the vehicles leave Jason Lyle’s property.”
The husband and wife who stalled out in the Chevy didn’t have a gun, says the document, adding that Lyle was not asserting that those people were the ones who had shot him.
No Duty To Retreat
Laramie County District Court Judge Steven K. Sharpe scheduled a full-day hearing Sept. 12 to hear arguments on young Lyle’s motion to dismiss the case based on Wyoming’s Stand Your Ground self-defense provision.
The law says that a person being attacked at a place he’s occupying lawfully can respond with reasonable defensive force and does not have a duty to retreat.
Sharpe declined to dismiss the case early based on the Stand Your Ground argument.
The case advanced to a Nov. 7 two-day jury trial.
Not Calling The Cops Here
One argument the state launched at trial was that Lyle Jr. didn’t simply call the police during the attack, he said.
“They were like, ‘You never called the cops.’ But none of them ever did (until later),” said Lyle Jr, referring to the drivers who ran him down.
The driver of the Tacoma reportedly called police once he was home. He went home, put his gun away, then called 911 “and complained about Junior’s driving,” Lyle Senior said. “And then he said, ‘Oh by the way, I think he’s shooting at some cars down there.’”
At the trial, the jury combed over video footage, including a collection of four panes from the Lyle home surveillance system. It heard testimony, including from the man and woman who’d been in the Silverado, and from Molly.
Junior did not testify.
Petersen in his closing argument emphasized Wyoming’s self-defense laws, with their call for “reasonableness” — a notion whose confines 12 jurors had to define. The attorney said his client did precisely what was necessary to end the threat to his home.
The jury deliberated for about one hour before declaring Junior innocent.
“My client and his family were very happy with the outcome,” Petersen told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.
“It felt pretty good,” Junior said, remembering the moment the verdict was read. “I almost cried tears of joy.”
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.