By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A state district court in Natrona County properly dismissed murder charges against a Casper man under the state’s “stand your ground” law, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.
The court ruled Monday that Jason Tsosie John met all the legal requirements to use the law when he asked for a dismissal of the charges filed in connection with the shooting death of Wesley Willow in August 2018.
Wyoming’s Legislature in 2018 changed its laws regarding self-defense to specify that a person who uses reasonable force to protect himself from injury or loss will not be prosecuted. The changes also said that when a person enters a home by force, it can be assumed that he or she is doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving violence. The changes also said that a person faced with an illegal intruder in their home is under no obligation to retreat before using reasonable force.
John cited these laws in asking for the dismissal of the charge of first-degree murder filed against him in Willow’s death, saying he used appropriate force to protect himself from death or serious bodily injury.
According to the ruling, Willow and a woman John had dated briefly were celebrating the woman’s birthday at a Casper hotel when John started sending the woman texts. The texts escalated in intensity and Willow ultimately called John to find out where he lived.
Willow, the woman and another man drove to the area where John lived and approached his home. As they approached, they saw John standing in front of his home, carrying a rifle.
The ruling said John warned the group to stay back, but Willow ran at him. As he neared, John fired nine shots, two of which hit Willow in the chest and six of which hit him in the back. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Prosecutors charged John with first-degree murder, saying the messages he exchanged with Willow and the fact he was waiting for Willow with a rifle showed he acted with premeditation.
But John asked that the charges be dismissed, saying he acted reasonably to protect his life against someone who had entered his home using force.
Supreme Court justices agreed that John had met all the requirements to be immune from prosecution under the “stand your ground” law.
“Mr. John reasonably feared imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury … when he used deadly force because Mr. Willow was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering … his home …” the ruling said.
The ruling also noted that John yelled for Willow to stop his advance and took several steps backward before shooting.
Prosecutors alleged John used excessive force by shooting Willow eight times, but justices disagreed, pointing to a district court ruling that the situation “escalated in mere seconds.”
“We find no error in (the district court’s) conclusion that Mr. John used necessary force,” the ruling said.