A Paso Robles man shot to death in February 2014 by his girlfriend’s son was running out of methamphetamine and “on the verge of exploding” from money and other troubles in the months leading up to his death, a defense attorney said Wednesday.
In his opening statement, attorney Dave Vogel painted the alleged victim in the case, 47-year-old Billy Don Law, as a dangerous man who possessed a cache of weapons and who had previously tried to gouge out the eyes of his alleged killer over a minor argument.
John Steven Danner, 25, is accused of killing Law in cold blood after the two confronted each other in a dark living room in the early morning hours. Danner has pleaded not guilty to a single count of murder, claiming he shot Law 13 times with a .45-caliber handgun after Law threatened his mother and then came charging at him.
The rural Paso Robles house that Danner, his mother, and Law shared had its electricity cut off about five months prior to the shooting, Vogel said. That, combined with drug use, an eviction notice and a rejected application for disability benefits rattled Law, Vogel said, and tensions quickly mounted within the household.
“Billy was on the verge of exploding. This was a guy who was on a slow burn,” Vogel said.
“And in dealing with this pressure, he started using more methamphetamine.”
In the early morning hours of Feb. 7, Law yelled at Danner for burning garbage in the backyard after previous warnings against burning candles in the house, witnesses have testified. When Danner’s mother defended her son, she and Law began arguing intensely, prompting Danner to retrieve two handguns from a safe in his bedroom.
According to testimony, Danner yelled at Law from the living room to leave his mother alone and indicated that he had a gun.
According to Vogel, Law exited his bedroom and charged at Danner in the near-pitch-black room.
“Why did he have to threaten him with a gun? Because this was Billy Law. He was dangerous,” Vogel said. “That was the only thing he thought would work to get Billy to stop fighting with his mother. It’s a conditional threat.”
As his first witness, Vogel called Danner’s mother, Christine Ruda, to the stand.
Ruda had previously been called to the stand by the prosecution and testified at that time that Danner had come to her defense after Law began shouting at her, kicking and shoving her off the bed with his foot.
On Wednesday, Ruda testified that her relationship with Law rapidly deteriorated after he knocked out one of Danner’s teeth over the parking of his truck about two months prior to the shooting.
“At that moment, I pretty much fell out of love with Billy Law,” Ruda said.
She said that after she and Law began arguing, just before the shooting, she told Law that she and Danner would be moving out of the house later that morning.
“I was trying to find a place to move. We just didn’t move fast enough,” she said.
Testimony is scheduled to continue Thursday afternoon.