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Judge rules convicted murderer got fair trial

Oct 18, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Gabriel Drennen is serving a life sentence for the 2010 shooting death of Leroy Hoster in a dispute.

A judge has concluded a Riverton man convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of another man in 2010 failed to demonstrate he had ineffective assistance of counsel during his trial.

Gabriel R. Drennen is serving a life sentence for the May 2, 2010, shooting death of Leroy Hoster, 29, of Riverton, during a landlord-tenant dispute. A jury convicted Drennen in January 2011.

In July, he appeared 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.

Drennen has continued to push for a new trial by accusing his two public defenders of poor representation.

District Court Judge Norman E. Young previously denied Drennen's request for a new trial, but last year Wyoming Supreme Court justices remanded the defendant's appeal to the District Court for additional evidence on expert testimony in the case.

"Defendant contends that his trial counsel was ineffective," Young said in his decision filed Oct. 9. "Specifically, Defendant argues that trial counsel failed to adequately investigate his claim of self defense by failing to consult with and call expert witnesses to assist in his defense, in particular, a forensic pathologist and a forensic criminalist."

According to testimony at trial, Drennen went to hang no-trespassing signs on one of his rental properties while evicting Hoster. Hoster pushed him off a porch and approached him, prompting Drennen to pull his gun and shoot him.

Drennen had an activated digital audio recorder in his pocket during the shooting.

A criminal investigations expert and a forensic pathologist testified at the July hearing.

In his report, Young said the state contended that defense counsel was effective, "and even if counsel were ineffective, Defendant was not prejudiced by counsel's performance to an extent that confidence in the jury's verdict was substantially undermined."

In his decision, Young noted the difficulty of appointing counsel to represent Drennen.

"Counsel represented a client who shot an unarmed man, hitting him with 4 or 5 shots fired from close range in a dispute over a relatively minor matter involving rent due and possession of a mobile home and miscellaneous personal property," Young said.

Young said the obvious and only defense was self-defense, which Drennen's counsel argued.

"This is not an instance where counsel 'failed to function as counsel,'" Young said. "Defendant's attorney filed pre-trial motions, actively engaged jurors in voir dire concerning self defense, cross examined witnesses, put on defense witnesses, was actively engaged in and argued jury instructions, and made a passionate closing argument."

Young also noted counsel had resources including co-counsel, a regular investigator with the public defender's office and a second investigator assisting on a voluntary basis.

Young said testimony heard at July's hearing would have been helpful, finding trial counsel "failed to exercise reasonable professional judgment in neglecting to obtain" professional services in preparing and presenting a self-defense argument.

However, Young said the two professionals who testified did not truly alter the evidential landscape of the trial.

"In that end, it is impossible to know to a reasonable degree of certainty that a single opinion or piece of evidence or a combination of opinions and evidence offered in support of Defendant's version of events would have made the critical difference," Young said.

The judge also said Drennen did not receive a "perfect trial, but in the Court's opinion, he received a fair one."

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