Strip Club Murder Headed to District Court
A Former Pennsylvania Marine, accused of killing a man outside of a Natrona County strip club, will have the case bound over to District Court for trial.
Thirty-three-year-old John Knospler Junior is facing one charge of second-degree murder in the death of 24-year-old James Baldwin.
The charges stem from an incident outside of Racks Gentlemen’s Club in Mills, where investigators believe that Knospler shot Baldwin to death in early-October.
During a Preliminary Hearing in Natrona County Circuit Court, Knospler, currently free on $500,000 bond, appeared wearing a tweed jacket before Judge Michael Huber. Representing Knospler was Long Beach based lawyer Joseph H. Low and Jackson based lawyer Grant H. Lawson.
Assistant District Attorney Joshua Stensaas called Natrona County Sheriff's Department Investigator Sean Ellis to the stand. During questioning, Stensaas asked Ellis to talk through the alleged crime beat-by-beat, starting with Knospler's arrival at Racks Gentlemen's Club at 6:00 pm October 3rd. According to Ellis's testimony, interviews and surveillance showed Knospler entering and leaving at various times in the night.
Baldwin was said to have arrived at the bar arrived with friends at 9:00 pm on October 3rd, to celebrate his 24th birthday. Ellis said that Baldwin and Knospler seemed jovial and friendly towards each other during the evening.
Ellis went on to say that at about 10:30 pm, Knospler was asked to leave the bar, where he was observed to then walk out into the parking lot saying that he was leaving anyway.
At approximately midnight, Ellis says that a bouncer claims to have observed Baldwin passed out at a table. Baldwin was told to leave and was offered a cab, which he refused, saying that he had a friend waiting in the parking lot.
Baldwin was then observed to walk into the parking lot, to a dark passenger car, approached the driver's side door, was seen leaning into the driver's side of the car, where he jerked and fell to the ground. The bouncer then said he ran outside and the car drove away. Baldwin was on the ground injured, with a substantial amount of blood on him. 911 was alerted and people from in the bar attempted to render aid to Baldwin.
A suspect vehicle was pulled over 10 minutes after the 9-11 call, Knospler was said to be
behind the wheel, with the driver's side window was broken. A handgun was also found in the vehicle. When questioned about the events of the night, Ellis says that Knospler told officers "I think you know what happened." He was also said to be cooperative during the stop. Knospler was also said to have tested positive for a blood alcohol content above the legal limit, several hours after leaving the bar.
During questioning at the Sheriff's Office, Knospler also said that he felt threatened and acted in self defense.
Ellis was also questioned by Low, who asked about details pertaining to the investigation and the evidence gathered by investigators. Several times during Low's questions, Stensaas objected to the line of questioning saying that he didn't believe the questions pertained to the probable cause that was being presented during the preliminary hearing. Judge Huber sustained Stensaas' objections.
Low also asked questions about glass fragments found in Baldwin's right hand, as well as how the broken glass was found. Ellis said that the glass appeared to have been broken by a force outside the car pushing in.
At the end of the hearing, Low moved for the case to be dismissed saying that the prosecution had not established probable cause. Judge Huber denied the motion and ruled the case to be bound over to district court.
Low also addressed court on Thursday asking for Knospler's bond to be lowered to one of personal-recognizance. During that request, Low described Knospler as an honorably discharged member of the U.S. Marine Corps, who participated in over 100 combat missions in two tours of duty in Iraq. Low further described Knospler as not being a flight risk nor a danger to the community, and as a "perfect citizen in every way."
Stensaas responded that Knospler had been demoted from Sergeant to Corporal in the Marine Corps following an arrest in a foreign country in an incident that involved alcohol.
Judge Huber ruled to have the bond remain unchanged at $500,000.
During a media interview following the hearing, Low continued to describe Knospler as a model Marine.
"He was one of the best the Marine Corps had to offer," said Low. "With regards to his ability to conduct himself in operations that were some of the worst that the Marine Corps has seen."
Low further described Knospler has having above average self control while in the Marines. "He was incredibly adept at being able to insert himself into areas where there was heavy troop movement and go in undetected, and relay what he saw, that information, back to larger units, to save lives. It takes a very unique person to be able do that and to resist temptations to engage. You have to be a very calm, you have to be well-trained and you have to be very dedicated. He's a war hero, several times over."
When asked about the allegations that Knospler had been demoted in rank due to an arrest, Low said "I think what they need to do is continue to do their homework."
Stensaas declined to comment immediately following the hearing.