An expert witness in the trial of a Paso Robles man accused of gunning down his mother’s boyfriend testified that the victim’s gunshot wounds indicated the shooting was “personal.” But pathologist Gary Walter said he couldn’t rule out that the 13 shots were not fired out of panic.
John Steven Danner, 23, has pleaded not guilty to a single count of murder, claiming that he killed Billy Don Law, 47, in defense of his mother and himself in the early morning hours of Feb. 7, 2014, after Law charged at him in a dark living room.
On the third day of testimony Thursday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, jurors heard from Walter, who said that Law suffered approximately 26 wounds from between 10 and 13 rounds fired from a Glock-style, .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
Some of those included several entry and exit wounds from the same bullet, Walter said, adding that only one bullet was recovered from Law’s body.
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He testified that multiple bullets passed through vital organs, including Law’s heart and liver, and that several wounds would have been fatal had they been the sole wound.
Asked by San Luis Obispo County Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham if the high number of shots fired were consistent with other gun-related homicides he’s seen in his career, Walter said a “normal” homicide victim suffers between four and five gunshot wounds.
“The more the wounds, it seems to be more of a personal nature, or that anger is involved,” Walter said.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Dave Vogel asked Walter if the wounds were consistent with a shooter who was panicked.
“I can’t fully rule that out,” Walter said.
Vogel pressed Walter, referring to the roughly 30 police officer-related shootings Walter claimed to have previously examined where the officer fired all the bullets in his or her gun into a suspect.
“Now were those (shootings) done with a personal motive such as rage?” Vogel asked.
“I don’t know,” Walter said.
When she took the witness stand Wednesday, Danner’s mother, Christine Ruda, claimed Danner came to her defense after she and Law had a physical altercation in their bedroom.
Alhough Ruda testified that Law had never hit her in the roughly three years they were together, he began kicking and “shoving” her out of their bed with his feet as they argued just before the shooting, she said.
However, on Thursday, Lindsey Powell, a nurse at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton who treated Ruda for a gunshot wound to the arm she suffered during the incident, testified that Ruda did not have any bruising when she was admitted to the hospital following the shooting.
Powell said Ruda was visibly distraught and anxious, and she defended her son.
“She said, ‘Billy said he was going to kill me. Johnny got the gun. Please don’t take my son away,’ ” Powell recalled.
On Friday and Monday afternoons, jurors listened to and watched audio and video recordings of two interviews between Danner and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office Detective Neil Clayton.
In the recordings, Danner claimed that he was able to see Law charging at him in the dark living room after Danner told him to leave his mother alone or he would shoot.
“I was more scared of his tackling me and taking the gun from me,” Danner told Clayton. “I shot out of instinct because I was in fear (for) my life.”
In the second interview, Clayton revisited the moment Danner began pulling the trigger, telling Danner his theory that Danner pulled the gun from his safe to scare Law because Danner “was sick of his shit.”
“You brought a gun to what wasn’t a gunfight and then shot somebody because they tried to take your gun,” Clayton told Danner.
Testimony resumes Tuesday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.