Jun 14, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterWyoming 9th Judicial District Circuit Court judge Wesley A. Roberts's decision to bind over second-degree murder charges against Shey Elan Bruce hinged on the word "malice."
Bruce, 45, is charged with the murder of Charles Darrell Laster, 65, of Shoshoni.
"The story is one of a jealous boyfriend ... he goes to the house, sees (Lavena Laster) in bed with her ex ... and maliciously struck them in the head," prosecutor Ember Oakley said in her summation argument. "That was the blunt-force trauma that led to his death."
At the preliminary hearing Wednesday, Fremont County Sheriff's Office detective Eric Granlund testified about his own investigation and reports from other law enforcement officials.
Bruce and Lavena Laster had been in a romantic relationship for about two years and were renting a residence together in Shoshoni, Granlund said. Lavena and Charles Laster were married but had been separated since 2010.
Bruce entered Charles Laster's home at 115 Main St. in Shoshoni around 11 p.m. May 14 and found the Lasters in bed together. The detective said Bruce struck them both in the head with a beer bottle and later left.
Charles Laster was alive when his wife went to bed. The next morning, however, Lavena Laster awoke around 5:30 a.m to find him face down on the floor. She could not rouse him, and Charles Laster was later pronounced dead.
In a May 31 autopsy, a pathologist found the cause of death to be a subdural hematoma due to a blunt force head injury, Granlund said.
A subdural hematoma is blood accumulating between the skull and brain.
A second-degree murder charge requires that the perpetrator acted purposely and maliciously but without premeditation. A preliminary hearing does not address whether a person is guilty but only if there is probable cause the defendant committed the crimes with which he is charged.
On the "purposely" requirement, defense counsel Devon Petersen and Oakley agreed in summation arguments that a person does not need to intend to kill for there to be probable cause -- only the act that caused the death must be done purposely.
Petersen disagreed that the evidence presented established probable cause that Bruce acted maliciously.
The defense counsel said the testimony did not support that Bruce acted with "that degree of mental disturbance or aberration of the mind that is wicked, evil and of unlawful purpose, or of that willful disregard of the rights of others," an interpretation of "malice" established by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Petersen also said that case law held death must be the "reasonable or probable result" of the action, in this case a blow from a beer bottle.
"People get in fights all the time and maybe they use a beer bottle," he said. "The reasonable or probable outcome of that is not someone dying."
The state had shown evidence to support manslaughter, Petersen said, but not second-degree murder.
"I would say there's an evil, wicked or unlawful purpose when he took a bottle and hit Lavena and Charles Laster in the head," Oakley rebutted. "As far as use of a deadly weapon, I would say a beer bottle in this case was a deadly weapon."
Roberts bound the case over to district court and focused on malice in his decision as well, pointing to testimony about Bruce's "escalation of anger."
Granlund had testified about his interview with Teri Hughes, the daughter of Lavena Laster who spoke with Bruce late on May 14, after he allegedly attacked the Lasters.
Hughes told Granlund that Bruce said he had walked in on the Lasters having sex that evening and hit them both in the head.
"'(Bruce) kept repeating he had hurt them bad,' and 'that's what they get for screwing him around,'" the detective said Hughes told him.
Lavena Laster said she and her husband were sitting on the bed talking when Bruce entered Charles Laster's residence the night of the alleged attack, Granlund said.
Norman Hughes, a neighbor of Charles Laster and the father-in-law of Teri Hughes, also spoke with law enforcement, Granlund said.
Norman Hughes said Bruce came to his residence at 8 a.m. the day of the alleged attack, May 14, the detective said. Norman Hughes said Bruce was intoxicated and said he was upset because he had seen the Lasters engaged in a sex act, Granlund said.
Bruce went back and forth between Charles Laster's and Norman Hughes's residence several times that day, Granlund was told. Before one trip to Charles Laster's house, Bruce told Norman Hughes that Charles Laster would give him money to go home, and when Bruce came back to Norman Hughes's, Bruce had a check, Granlund said.
Norman Hughes told the detective that Bruce last went to Charles Laster's residence at about 3 p.m. and stayed there until late in the evening before driving off at a high rate of speed in Charles Laster's vehicle.
"Those things do imply malice," Roberts said, referring to the testimony.
The judge transferred a misdemeanor charge against Bruce of domestic violence because it is related to the murder case. The count is related to the alleged assault on Lavena Laster.
Bruce's bond order of $500,000 cash remains in place.
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