Dec 20, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterNearly three years after being convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, Gabriel Drennen is a free man.
District Court Judge Norman E. Young on Friday formally dismissed charges against the Riverton man for the May 2010 killing of Leroy Hoster.
Drennen was released from the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins at 6:05 p.m. Thursday. He had been in custody for since May 2, 2010.
"It was the right thing to do," Drennen's lawyer, Tom Jubin, said. "The judge signing the order is just a ministerial function."
The prosecutor alone has the power to file or withdraw charges. In this case, Fremont County Attorney Michael dropped the charges Wednesday afternoon.
Drennen was serving a term of life in prison after a January 2011 conviction for first-degree murder.
"He is very thankful to be back with his family," Jubin said.
On his third appeal, the Wyoming Supreme Court overturned Drennen's conviction in August. The high court said prosecutors improperly explained Wyoming law on self defense, and neither the judge nor defense lawyers corrected the error. Thus, the court determined, the jury didn't have the proper legal foundation when it delivered the murder conviction.
On Monday, Bennett had filed a new, lesser charge for possessing a weapon with unlawful intent to replace the one for murder. But his motion Wednesday dropped all charges.
"At this point, it's so overwhelmingly clear it was a self defense shooting," Jubin said.
Since Drennen's January 2011 murder trial, Jubin obtained more evidence and procured two expert witnesses. Jubin says the new evidence shows Drennen acted in self defense when he shot Hoster during an altercation at a residence Drennen owned and Hoster had rented.
In a Wednesday interview, Bennett said the evidence convinced him as well, and he dismissed the charges because he now believes Drennen acted in self defense.
Bennett was not the Fremont County Attorney during Drennen's trial. Brian Varn held the office at the time.
Family and friends of Hoster were upset by the county attorney's decision to drop charges.
"I've talked to (Drennen) about the fact he really feels bad for Leroy Hoster's family," Jubin said. "I know they're very upset, but the fact of the matter is Gabe Drennen didn't have anything against Leroy (Hoster), and he wishes he didn't have to do what he had to do."
Jubin said further legal options were not on his radar, but he could not speak for his client.
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