Natrona District Court Judge Denies John Knospler DNA Test Request
A man convicted and sentenced to a 30- to 50-year prison term for second-degree murder lost another appeal Friday after a judge turned down his request to collect possible DNA evidence of the victim on a pistol.
Natrona County District Court Judge Thomas Sullins denied John Knospler Jr.'s motion to obtain DNA evidence to determine if victim James Baldwin may have grabbed Knospler's gun before the shooting at Rack's nightclub west of Casper in 2013.
This motion was preliminary to filing a motion for a new trial
After a seven-day trial in December 2014, a jury convicted Knospler of shooting Baldwin, 24. He was sentenced in April 2015.
He unsuccessfully appealed the conviction to the Wyoming Supreme Court, and the district court later denied a petition for post-conviction relief, according to court records.
Knospler argued that skin cell evidence is necessary to show Baldwin may have grabbed Knospler's .45-caliber Nighthawk pistol, according to the motion filed by their attorneys, Eric Palen of Glendo and Gerald Soucie of Lincoln, Neb.
The motion recounted the recovery of the pistol, the review of evidence such as the shattered glass of Knospler's vehicle when he shot at Baldwin from inside the car, the failure to test the pistol and the spent cartridge, the ineffectiveness of Knospler's attorneys, and how testing for Baldwin's DNA on the pistol may clear Knospler.
"The exculpatory epithelian DNA evidence would establish self-defense and eviscerated the State's theory that Mr. Knospler fired through the window and could have simply driven away in safety," Soucie and Palen wrote.
Friday, Soucie spoke via teleconference and recounted these and other arguments.
Assistant District Attorney Dan Itzen responded that Wyoming law does not allow for this kind of testing when the perpetrator is known. Knospler undeniably was the shooter, according to the evidence at the trial and the jury's verdict, Itzen said in court. District Attorney Mike Blonigen's also had filed a written response to Knospler's motion.
"The contorted physical evidence argument made by the Defendant at this stage does not establish that the proposed DNA evidence would prove actual innocence by showing the Defendant is not the perpetrator," Blonigen wrote. "Actual innocence," he added, "means a complete exoneration and that the state convicted the wrong person of a crime."
The judge agreed with the prosecution. Sullins said there was no issue about the identity of the shooter, the law is narrow and would not factor in a self-defense argument, Knospler's defense attorneys were excellent, and the evidence pointed to Knospler's guilt.
"I think there was very adequate defense," Sullins said.