Preliminary hearing held for suspect in fatal shooting of mother's boyfriend

John Steven Danner, 23, is accused in the incident that occurred Feb. 7 in rural Paso Robles

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comMay 8, 2014 

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

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

A man accused of killing his mother’s boyfriend allegedly told an investigator he shouldn’t have shot the man. But the defendant’s mother said her son merely came to her rescue in the dark after hearing her scream during a heated argument.

John Steven Danner, 23, has been charged in the death of Billy Don Law, 47. According to reports from the county Sheriff’s Office, Danner shot Law 10 times in the early morning of Feb. 7 as Law argued with Danner’s mother, Christine Ruda, at the home they shared in rural Paso Robles.

During Danner’s preliminary hearing Thursday, more than a dozen people sat in the courtroom in support of the victim, many of them wearing shirts that bore Law’s image. On the other side of the courtroom, Danner’s mother sat with five others in support of the defendant.

The argument between Law and Ruda began when Law mistakenly concluded that Danner had been burning candles in his room late at night, which he believed was a fire hazard. Danner, who had actually been burning trash in the backyard, heard the argument, then retrieved two handguns from his bedroom.

“He said he heard his mother scream at the top of her lungs,” testified Gregory Smith, a sheriff’s deputy who responded to the scene.

According to courtroom testimony, the following occurred:

Danner, who was with his friend, Robert Little, retrieved two handguns from a safe in his room, then walked into the living room with a warning: “You’ better leave her alone or I’ll shoot you.”

Law responded, “Oh, yeah?” and began to approach Danner in the dark.

There was no electricity in the home.

According to forensic pathologist Gary Walter, Law had traces of methamphetamine in his body, but Walter could not determine how long it had been in his system.

As Law approached, Danner fired at him several times — “just in time,” before Law reached him, he told investigators. Even after Law fell to the ground, Danner continued to shoot.

“He told me it was instinct,” said Neil Clayton, who worked as an investigator with the Sheriff’s Office at the time. “And he just wanted to make sure it was done.”

After the shooting, Ruda shouted, “You shot Billy!” Clayton said. Then she said, “I’ve been shot too,” referring to a wound she suffered in her left arm.

Walter, who performed the autopsy on Law, said the victim suffered 26 gunshot wounds from 10 bullets. That number counts both entry and exit wounds.

Law bled to death, Walter said.

After the shooting, Clayton testified, Danner said he wouldn’t have shot Law had he had another chance.

“He told me Mr. Law did not deserve to die because he was not doing anything to himself or Mrs. Ruda,” Clayton testified.

While Ruda said her screams led Danner to rush to her aid, she allegedly said Law had never hit her before, said sheriff’s investigator Dave Marquez.

According to courtroom testimony, Law was unarmed when he was shot. Yet, he was known to have many weapons. And he’d been violent toward Danner in the past, once sucker-punching Danner as he sat on a couch. That punch, causing Danner to lose a tooth, occurred over an argument about parking.

Clayton said the position of the bullet shell casings suggested Danner was moving backward when he fired at Law.

Danner, whose case will proceed to trial, will appear in court again May 27 for an arraignment.

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