Wyoming Man Accused Of Bashing Neighbor In Face With Bat Has To Face Trial

A Wright, Wyoming, man accused of bashing his neighbor’s face with a baseball bat during a two-family brawl last Fourth of July can’t avoid trial on a self-defense argument, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Clair McFarland

May 14, 20246 min read

The Campbell County Courthouse in downtown Gillette, Wyoming.
The Campbell County Courthouse in downtown Gillette, Wyoming. (Google)

A Wright, Wyoming, man accused of whacking his neighbor’s face with a baseball bat during a two-family brawl last Fourth of July doesn’t get to avoid trial on a self-defense argument, a judge ruled Tuesday.

John S. Harris, who turns 65 this year, was charged with aggravated assault last July on allegations that he beat his neighbor’s adult son Josh Springer with a baseball bat, after Springer and John’s wife Melissa got into a shouting match in front of the Harrises’ home the night of July 4, 2023.

A lengthy hearing stretching across three dates last week and Tuesday ended with Campbell County District Court Judge Stuart Healy III ruling that Harris may argue he acted in defense of self and family before a jury — but he can’t use that argument to dodge prosecution.

“Before anybody knew what was happening, Mr. Harris took a swing with a bat at Mr. Springer,” said Healy, referencing what he believed was the most credible testimony to emerge from Harris’ self-defense hearings. “I’m certainly not finding that’s what happened beyond a reasonable doubt. But ... the court will find that the state did carry its burden.”

Wyoming self-defense hearings have two parts: first the defendant must provide evidence showing at first glance that he acted with reasonable self-defense.

Then the prosecutor must try to show by a preponderance of the evidence (a higher standard than the defendant shoulders) that the defendant did not behave reasonably to defend himself or others.

Harris made his case at first glance, but Healy defeated it with the evidence he showed, Healy ruled.

And yet, Healy said this self-defense argument is appropriate to go before a jury, should Harris go to trial.

First, Huge Fireworks

Melissa Harris had called police multiple times on July 4, 2023, to report that her neighbor Debbie Souza’s party guests were shooting off fireworks that battered her house, according to court documents and testimony.

Springer is Souza’s son. He was preparing to drive away from his mother’s home after the fireworks shows that night with his two sons in his vehicle. But he stopped in or along the road, got out of his vehicle and had an argument with Melissa Harris instead.

Melissa Harris told the court that Springer called her cruel and sexist names. Springer said she called him names.

Melissa Harris said Springer punched her multiple times and pulled a gun out of his truck to brandish it at her, her son, or her husband multiple times. At some point prior she had called John Harris to tell him how severe the Souza party fireworks were, she testified.

John Harris rushed home from his work at the coal mine, and emerged from his truck with a baseball bat in hand, according to court testimony.

Roads Diverged

Here’s where the testimonies diverge.

Melissa Harris described Springer attacking her, knocking her down and her young adult son Tyler Harris trying to intervene. John Harris arrived in his truck to find Tyler helping Melissa off the ground, her testimony indicates.

Tyler testified that John pulled up to witness Springer attacking them both.

And John testified that when he pulled up, he saw Melissa trying to get up from the ground while Tyler held an enraged Josh Springer back.

All three testified that Springer had charged John, growling, shortly after John pulled up. Springer is reportedly several pounds heavier and about a foot taller than John Harris.

John Harris’ attorney Christina Williams argued to the court that Harris could not possibly win a fistfight against Springer, that he pulled up to a scene of violence, and that he acted reasonably to defend himself.

The Neighbors

Souza and Springer recounted it differently, telling the court that Melissa Harris and Springer were merely exchanging words just before John Harris pulled up.

Tyler was watching but not engaging at all, Souza claimed. She also claimed the Harris men attacked her 11-year-old grandson at some point.   

There were inconsistencies in all testimonies, Healy noted.

Williams had exposed inconsistencies, for example, in which Souza’s version of events did not align perfectly with what her two grandsons allegedly told police last July after the incident.

But Souza’s and Springer’s testimonies aligned more closely with one another than did the Harrises’ three testimonies, Campbell County Chief Deputy Attorney Greg Steward argued.

Healy said he agreed with Steward’s assessment of “witness credibility.” He voiced some trepidation about Springer’s testimony, noting Springer could gain by casting himself in a favorable light.

Springer had also told investigators hours after the incident that everything was “fuzzy,” according to court testimony and documents.

But Healy said he found Souza’s testimony credible and “largely consistent.”


Campbell County Deputy Tyler Stearns arrived after the incident the night of July 4 to find John Harris sitting on the ground with blood coming from his mouth and nose, according to the evidentiary affidavit in the case. He saw Springer walking in the street, bleeding from wounds above his eye.

Springer had what Stearns called “significant pain, multiple cuts on his temple and right cheek, and temporarily lost consciousness while I was speaking with him.”

Both Springer and John Harris were taken to the hospital.

It was uncontested in court that at some point, Springer did pull a gun on the Harrises - though there was argument about whether he did it before or after the baseball bat incident. Court testimony also showed that Springer punched John Harris at some point, knocking him out.

On Scene

Healy wondered aloud why, if Springer had punched Melissa Harris, she did not tell Stearns that when Stearns arrived on scene after the fight.

“One would think that if this detailed story that Mrs. Harris told occurred — with all the violence — that would have been the first thing out of her mouth when she spoke to Deputy Stearns,” said the judge. Rather, she noted that Springer had pulled a gun on them, but didn’t say when, the judge recounted.

Melissa Harris had testified earlier that she didn’t feel comfortable telling investigators her story at first because they had allegedly treated her unpleasantly.

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter