CHEYENNE — A Sheridan man serving life without parole on a murder conviction in the January 2010 killing of another man deserves a new trial, a lawyer told the Wyoming Supreme Court on Thursday.
Shawn Osborne, 31, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of 42-year-old Gerald Bloom. Authorities say Osborne cut Bloom’s throat and disposed of his body in a sleeping bag beneath a trailer home because Osborne was upset that Bloom owed him $20.
David Westling of the Wyoming Public Defender’s Office acknowledged in his opening statement that Osborne’s case would have been difficult for any lawyer to defend. He said the prosecution had an eyewitness; police recovered a weapon; and Osborne, covered in blood, showed up at the police station 12 hours after the attack.
Westling told the five justices that he doesn’t believe Osborne has much chance of escaping a second-degree murder conviction if he gets a new trial. “But for somebody looking at life without parole, that’s something worth pursuing,” he said.
Osborne consumed three pints of vodka, up to eight beers and several shots of whiskey as well as taking amphetamines in the hours before the attack, Westling said. He argued that Osborne’s trial lawyer, Robert Jones, should have called an expert witness to testify about the combined effect of the alcohol and drugs on Osborne’s ability to make a decision to kill Bloom.
Westling told the justices he assumed that they each had experienced being drunk.
“But I doubt any of you has the experience of drinking that much,” he said.
It was insufficient, Westling argued, for Jones merely to tell the jury that Osborne had been drinking and taking drugs. He said the jury should have heard expert testimony that the alcohol and amphetamines could have combined to put Osborne into a state of “substance-induced delirium” that would make it impossible for him to form the required criminal intent to sustain a conviction for first-degree murder.
Westling said Jones gave a statement after the trial that he didn’t retain an expert to testify on Osborne’s condition because in part because he didn’t realize he could obtain the services of one through the state Public Defender’s Office.
Westling said Jones later stated that he didn’t want the trial to become a battle of the experts, but Westling remarked that other lawyers might “call that a trial.”
Kyle A. Ridgeway with the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office argued that Jones did an adequate job and that Osborne’s conviction should stand. Ridgeway said Jones made the tactical decision not to call an expert witness.
Jones “would rather make the arguments himself than rely on an expert,” Ridgeway said.
Ridgeway said most people in Wyoming already were familiar with what alcohol does to one’s brain.
He also recounted the strength of the case against Osborne, adding, “even if he had that expert, we still had all that evidence.”
Justice Barton Voigt responded, “It seems to me that all that good evidence that the state had means that the defense should have brought in an expert to contradict it.”
Ridgeway responded that Jones made all the necessary arguments. “It would be a different case if the defense didn’t even raise the voluntary intoxication defense,” he said.
The court will issue a written decision later.