Crime

John Danner sentenced to 40 years for killing mother’s boyfriend

John Steven Danner, 25, was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison Tuesday for the second-degree murder of Billy Don Law.
John Steven Danner, 25, was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison Tuesday for the second-degree murder of Billy Don Law. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Before her son’s killer was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison, an Atascadero woman told the court she is “sickened” and “horrified” whenever she thinks of her son’s final thoughts.

“Of three adults in the house, not one had the common human decency to cover his body,” a tearful Khay Svedas said, reading from a prepared statement. “Yet they had the forethought to take his dog with them to the hospital.”

Minutes later, John Steven Danner, 25, was formally sentenced to prison for second-degree murder in the death of Billy Don Law.

Danner and a friend lived in a rural Klau Mine Road home with his mother, Christine Ruda, and her boyfriend, Law. On the night of Feb. 7, 2014, an argument began between Ruda and Law after Danner and his friend burned trash in the backyard. Danner told detectives he retrieved two guns from a safe, fearing for his mother’s safety.

Danner said he warned Law to stop, but Law came after him, prompting him to shoot. Even after Law fell to the ground, according to court testimony, Danner continued to fire bullets into his body.

A forensic pathologist, Gary Walter, testified that Law bled to death. He had 26 wounds from 10 to 13 bullets, Walter concluded.

The number of wounds, Walter told a jury, suggested the shooting was “of a personal nature, or that anger is involved.”

Law, who was unarmed, had traces of methamphetamine in his system, Walter testified. Danner was also a meth user, according to court testimony.

The defendant made every effort to obliterate my son’s body, his heart, his soul.

Khay Svedas, mother of Billy Don Law

A jury did not believe Danner acted in self-defense, convicting him last month of second-degree murder.

“I do not believe my client intended to commit a murder,” defense attorney David Vogel said during the sentencing, noting that Danner had no serious criminal history. “He thought it was kill or be killed.”

While Vogel said Danner was a “good person,” Law’s parents had different feelings about the defendant.

Francis Svedas, the victim’s father, said he had previously met Danner and was not impressed.

“I found him to be worthless, self-centered and a person of bad judgment,” Svedas said.

His wife, Khay Svedas, said Danner’s “infantile thinking” led him to believe that her son deserved to die, despite the fact that he had taken Danner and his mother in.

“The defendant made every effort to obliterate my son’s body, his heart, his soul — to eradicate his very essence from this earth,” she read from her prepared statement. “He played God, I suppose, feeling that his immediate wants, needs and desires superseded those of all others.”

Khay Svedas asked for the maximum possible sentence.

“We can’t stop evil, we can only protect ourselves from it,” she said.

Danner did not offer any comment.

Because Danner used a firearm during the crime, he was subject to enhanced sentencing. Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy said he would recommend Danner be sent to the California Men’s Colony so he could be close to his mother. And he recommended drug counseling.

“This whole situation was a recipe for disaster,” Duffy said. “Methamphetamine, alcohol and guns.”

Patrick S. Pemberton: 805-781-7903, @ppemberton

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