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In Drennen appeal hearing, expert calls shooting 'justified'

Aug 1, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

A criminal investigations expert with 44 years of experience testified on Tuesday afternoon that a Riverton man acted in self-defense in his case that resulted in a life sentence for first-degree murder.

John Cayton, chief criminalist with Access Forensic Laboratory in Missouri, testified in Lander's 9th District Court that Gabriel R. Drennen was justified in shooting and killing Leroy Hoster in May 2010.

"He shouldn't have had to wait to wrestle over the gun," Cayton said Drennen's actions in the shooting.

Cayton noted the events just seconds prior to the shooting when Hoster pushed Drennen off a porch and caused him to tumble over a 3-foot-high fence at a trailer home.

"Physical evidence showed he couldn't escape. He was on the ground pretty much anchored," Cayton said about Drennen on his back as Hoster approached him.

"Mr. Hoster kept coming," Cayton testified. "He said 'shoot me.'"

The testimony is part of Drennen's two-day hearing expected to conclude Wednesday that allows defense attorney Thomas Jubin to elicit expert testimony that could have helped in his trial in January 2011.

Drennen is appealing to the Wyoming Supreme Court on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. In his arguments for a new trial, Wyoming Supreme Court justices remanded his appeal to the District Court for additional evidence on expert testimony in the case.

Although Cayton testified in his opinion about the shooting, District Judge Norman E. Young on Wednesday morning said he would not have allowed him to express the same opinion during trial.

"There is no way I would have allowed that testimony to a jury in trial," Young said.

Cayton's testimony for purposes of the appeal hearing is important in determining whether it was "something trial counsel should have sought in defense" of Drennen and with the self-defense argument, Young said.

Deputy county attorney Kathy Kavanagh objected to the previous day's testimony about Cayton's opinion. She cited an appeal case in a different matter where "the court found it usurped the jury's role."

"The jury should make that decision," Kavanagh said about the shooting's conclusion.

Cayton testified that one of the skin abrasions caused by gunpowder impacts on Hoster indicated a distance of a foot.

"Well, the proximity, he was right on him," Cayton said.

Jubin asked for Cayton's opinion on whether Drennen's shooting was necessary. "Well, to stop the attack he saw in front of him, I think that was his last resort to shoot," Cayton said.

"Was it necessary?" Jubin asked again.

"Yes," Cayton responded.

Kavanagh questioned Cayton about his role in the investigation related to Drennen's appeal, resulting in answers about his payment from the defense counsel.

"Mr. Jubin contacted me to conduct this investigation," Cayton said, adding he charges about $220 an hour plus mileage and expenses related to himself and his assistant.

"The State of Wyoming is actually paying me" with funds requested by Jubin in the case, Cayton said. "I haven't billed anything yet."

Wyoming Supreme Court justices should consider the new testimony and decide on the matter later. Jurors in Lander took about two hours to find Drennen guilty of first-degree murder for shooting Hoster, 29, of Riverton.

While evicting Hoster from one of his rental properties, Drennen went to hang no-trespassing signs on the rental home in Riverton, 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.

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