'He saved my life': Paso woman stands behind son charged with murder

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comFebruary 13, 2014 

John Danner was in court Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, for an arraignment on murder charges.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Less than a week after her boyfriend was shot and killed, a Paso Robles woman appeared in court Thursday to show support for her son, who is charged with murder in the death of her boyfriend.

John Steven Danner, 23, has been charged with killing Billy Don Law, 47. According to a report by the Sheriff’s Office, Danner shot Law up to 10 times after Law argued with Danner’s mother. During the shooting, the mother, Christine Ruda, was accidentally shot in the left arm.

Danner appeared in court for his arraignment Thursday, which was postponed until Tuesday. His mother, meanwhile, sat in the audience, her wounded arm in a sling.

While Ruda said she did not wish to comment on the case — on the advice of Danner’s attorney — she did say one thing outside the courtroom.

“On my son’s behalf, he saved my life,” she told The Tribune.

According to the sheriff’s investigation, Law had knocked out one of Danner’s teeth during a fight three or four weeks before the shooting. Despite that fight, they had recently gotten along fairly well, Ruda told a detective, until an argument broke out between Law and her.

Law was said to be upset because he mistakenly believed Danner was burning candles at night. While their rural Klau Mine Road home had no electricity, Law said Danner was being careless.

Danner was actually burning wood and trash in the backyard at the time.

While Ruda and Law argued, Danner allegedly ordered them to “knock it off,” first brandishing a baseball bat, then two handguns. When he displayed the guns, he told a detective, Law walked toward him, apparently unafraid.

While Law was unarmed and did not threaten him, Danner said Law’s demeanor frightened him. Danner allegedly said he might have fired 13 rounds. A coroner investigator concluded Law had been struck by 10 bullets.

Danner’s attorney, public defender Jim Maguire, was just assigned the case Thursday. In general, he said, self-defense claims require that the defendant show there was an immediate threat of harm. The history of a relationship is also important.

“If it turns out there’s a pattern of abuse, you bet that’s relevant,” he said.

While Danner’s history with Law is unclear, the shooting itself could be muddled by the fact that there was no electricity when the early-morning shooting occurred.

“Everything takes place in the dark,” Maguire said.

Danner lived in the house with his mother, her boyfriend and a friend of Danner’s. Danner’s father, described in his obituary as a “loving, protective father,” died in 2009 at age 51.

Danner is expected to enter a plea of not guilty at his next hearing. He remains in jail without bail.

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