Crime

Paso Robles man on trial for murder recounts the shooting of his mother's boyfriend

John Danner in the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. He is on trial for murder in the death of Billy Don Law in Paso Robles.
John Danner in the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. He is on trial for murder in the death of Billy Don Law in Paso Robles. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A Paso Robles man accused of gunning down his mother’s boyfriend recounted the shooting in his first full day of testimony Friday, saying that his mother told him they needed to move out of the house just minutes before Billy Don Law charged at him.

John Steven Danner, 25, is accused of murdering Law, 47, in the early morning hours of Feb. 7, 2014, after Law and Danner’s mother began arguing loudly in the rural house the three shared on the outskirts of Paso Robles.

Danner has pleaded not guilty, claiming he shot Law 13 times with a handgun after he told him to leave his mother alone and Law charged at him in a dark room.

Law had previously threatened Danner and knocked out one of his front teeth, and was a known weapons enthusiast with a large collection of weapons in his bedroom, according to previous testimony.

On Friday, Danner described the timeline of the shooting:

He and his friend were in the backyard burning garbage when Law began yelling at them through a bathroom window. Danner’s mother, Christine Ruda, came to her son’s defense, and she and Law began arguing intensely in their bedroom. Something about his mother’s voice startled him, Danner said, and he went into the home carrying a baseball bat.

“I thought I heard slapping and I assumed (Ruda) was slapping Bill. Then I heard, ‘Do you need me to teach you a lesson?” Danner said. “It sounded like a threat.”

There were no phones in the house to call 911, Danner said, so he retrieved two handguns from a safe in his bedroom and thought about what to do. He said Ruda came out of her bedroom to use the bathroom, which was close to Danner’s room, and yelled to Danner that the two of them would be moving out of the house.

Shortly thereafter, Danner began to walk out of the house through the living room when the argument again broke out between Law and Ruda in their bedroom, Danner said.

“I said, ‘Get off her or I’ll shoot you,’” Danner recalled saying as he stood in the living room with both guns tucked into his waistband. “After I said that, I was thinking, ‘Oh shit, what did I just do?’ I thought he was probably going to come after me.”

Danner testified that a few seconds passed — time enough for Law to grab one of many weapons stored throughout his bedroom — before Law replied, “Oh yeah?” and charged out of the bedroom.

In hindsight, Danner said he should not have threatened Law. When asked by defense attorney David Vogel why he thought it was necessary at the time, Danner replied: “It sounded like she needed help, I guess. She was screaming very loudIt sounded like she was scared.”

Danner further said that Law had warned him during a previous argument that if he ever pulled a gun on him, he’d better use it because Law would take it away from him, “shove it up (my) ass and pull the trigger.”

Danner said he saw Law’s silhouette exit the bedroom and stomp toward him rapidly in the dark living room. He drew his gun, racked a round into the chamber, and began firing as he walked backward, he said.

“I took the first two shots and he was still coming toward me,” Danner said.

Testimony is scheduled to resume Monday afternoon in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

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