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Drennen makes pitch to overturn murder conviction

Jul 31, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

A Riverton man serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the shooting death of another man during a landlord-tenant dispute in May 2010 is arguing for a new trial while appealing to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Gabriel R. Drennen appeared Tuesday morning in Lander's 9th District Court with defense attorney Tom Jubin of Cheyenne to argue his appeal on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Jubin told Judge Norman E. Young that his client at trial in January 2011 had attorneys "who failed to conduct an investigation" into the shooting. The poor defense was "demonstrably deficient and under law prejudicial because it changes the prospective outcome," he said.

Prosecutor Kathy Kavanagh said in her opening statement that "the evidentiary picture is not altered" by the arguments for ineffective assistance of counsel.

"The issues that he is raising are not new. They were brought up at trial," Kavanagh said.

Jubin is saying "he would've tried and presented the case differently," Kavanagh added. "No lawyer is perfect. Every lawyer makes mistakes."

Drennen's hearing is set to continue through Tuesday and conclude sometime on Wednesday. Wyoming Supreme Court justices should consider the new testimony and decide on the matter later.

Shooting details

A jury in Lander took about two hours to find Drennen guilty of first-degree murder for shooting Leroy Hoster, 29, of Riverton, during a landlord-tenant dispute on May 2, 2010.

While evicting Hoster from one of his rental properties, Drennen went to hang no-trespassing signs on the rental home, according to testimony at trial and court documents. Hoster pushed him off a porch and approached him, prompting the landlord to pull his gun and shoot him.

Drennen's defense attorneys at the four-day trial used a self-defense argument for their client, who had an activated digital audio recorder in his pocket during the shooting.

Drennen has continued to push for a new trial by accusing his two public defenders of poor representation. Young previously denied Drennen's request for a new trial in 2011, but justices remanded the defendant's appeal to the District Court for additional evidence on expert testimony in the case.

Distance of shots

Testimony Tuesday morning came from Dr. Stephen J. Cina, a forensic pathologist who provided his professional opinion about the shooting. Cina said gunpowder burn marks on Hoster's skin, called stippling, indicate the shooting happened anywhere from 6 to 12 inches on his arm and 24 to 30 inches on his face.

The issue with distance is important because it shows Drennen "had no time or no opportunity to escape" from Hoster, Jubin said. The prosecution's theory that Drennen could have simply walked away from the dispute without shooting is "not a credible theory."

Jubin also asked if Hoster, who is 5-foot-11 and 232 pounds, while perched atop a 3-foot-tall fence above Drennen, could have caused "serious bodily injury" to his client. Cina said the situation "could cause lethal injuries to a person."

The prosecution countered that a lab analysis of Hoster's clothes showed no gunpowder residue marks.

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