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After third appeal, man serving life for murder now faces lesser charge

Dec 17, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Gabriel Drennen was previously found guilty of murder for the shooting death of Leroy Hoster, 29, on May 2, 2010.

After his third appeal, a man who was serving a lifelong prison term for murder looks set to plead guilty to a lesser charge.

Prosecutors dropped the murder case against Gabriel Drennen on Monday when they filed a new charge against the Riverton man.

Incident

Drennen was previously found guilty of murder for the shooting death of Leroy Hoster, 29, of Riverton, on May 2, 2010. The original trial was in Lander under Judge Norman E. Young.

According to court documents, the fatal 2010 shooting occurred when Hoster was moving out of a mobile home Drennen owned. Drennen reportedly was present at the time, hanging "no-trespassing" signs around the property.

The two subjects exchanged words, and at some point Hoster pushed Drennen off of a porch and over a 3-foot-high fence.

Hoster then approached Drennen as he lay on the ground. Drennen said, "Hey, hey, hey," but Hoster kept coming and said, "Shoot me!" Drennen drew a pistol and shot five times, striking Hoster multiple times.

Understanding the law

The Supreme Court decided prosecutors in the case misrepresented Wyoming statutes outlining when a person can kill in self defense. Officials also found that defense lawyers and the judge's jury instructions failed to correct the statements regarding the law.

If jurors misunderstood the law, they could have returned the wrong verdict, the high court believed.

Drennen was serving a term of life in prison before the Supreme Court overturned his conviction from January 2011.

New charges

In an amended information document, the Fremont County Attorney's office charged Drennen with possession, manufacture or disposition of a deadly weapon with unlawful intent.

Prosecutors typically file the document in order to change the charges a defendant faces when they have new information about the case or the parties reach a plea agreement.

Until the amended information was filed, Drennen still faced the first-degree murder charge, but the document replaced that charge with one for possession of a deadly weapon.

The new charge alleges on May 2, 2010, Drennen "knowingly possessed, manufactured, transported, repaired or sold a deadly weapon with intent to unlawfully threaten the life or physical well-being of another or to commit assault or inflict bodily injury on another."

The crime carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.

In contrast, a first-degree murder charge asserts a person purposely, maliciously and with premeditation killed another. The penalty is life in prison or death.

Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett declined to comment on why the new charge was filed but said a hearing in Drennen's case was set for Friday. Bennett said he plans to comment on the case after the hearing.

"My guess is it'll be a change of plea and sentencing (hearing)," Bennett said.

With a change of plea hearing scheduled, it is likely that Drennan has agreed to plead guilty to the new charge against him. If Bennett's prediction is correct, Drennen will be sentenced that same day.

Previous appeals

Last year, Young ruled against an earlier appeal from Drennen's lawyer, Cheyenne-based Tom Jubin, that the case should be retried because representatives involved in the trial were so poor. Jubin argued, in particular, that the public defenders failed to solicit expert testimony that would have supported Drennen's self-defense story. Jubin said the trial would have turned out differently had the original lawyers involved experts in the case.

In October 2012, Young ruled that the defendant's lawyers were sufficient. Young recognized that expert testimony would have bolstered Drennen's case, but the judge said the trial's outcome would not have been different.

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