UPDATE: Don Johns Found Guilty of 1st Degree Murder by Casper Jury
UPDATE: The verdict is in for Don Johns. A Casper Jury found him guilty of 1st Degree Murder. The 8-woman, 4-man jury returned the verdict at 4pm Friday.
The murder trial of a Casper man accused of stabbing his roommate to death is now in the hands of the jury. Don Johns is charged with first-degree murder for Donald Wickersham's death in August of last year at the North Jackson Street Apartment. Wickersham suffered 29 wounds stab wounds, which prosecutors say struck every major organ in his body except his heart.
During closing arguments Friday morning, Assistant District Attorney Dan Itzen led the jury back through the prosescution's case, telling them, "If you want to judge what's in his mind, look at his actions." He reminded them that Johns packed a suitcase while Wickersham was dying, and called a neighbor over to the scene. "If you're right, you don't show off your handiwork and brag," Itzen told the jury. He said the apartment at 314 North Jackson, which the men shared, was "where a coward lived, who stabbed a man nine times in the back". The weapons entered into evidence were a Japanese "katana" sword and a large hunting-type knife which had been in the house, as Wickersham was described as a collector of such weapons. Itzen asked the jury to return a verdict of first-degree murder.
Public Defender Traci Hucke, told the jury the one of the fears of the defense was that the jury would base their decision on emotion and speculation, when the law demands the decision be based on the evidence. The question isn't whether Johns was innocent, she told them, but rather whether the state has proven their burden, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Don Johns did not act in self-defense in Wickersham's death. Hucke also pointed out evidence that suggested Wickersham was the initial aggressor in the fight that led to his death, and said "Those who choose to start the fight don't always win."
If convicted, Johns could face life in prison without the possibility of parole. The jury could also return a finding of the lesser charges of second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. During the trial, the jury heard testimony that both Johns and Wickersham were drinking heavily that night. The jury heard instructions that self-induced intoxication could be considered as a defense for first-degree murder because it could impact the ability to form intent. It could not, however, be considered as a defense for the lesser charges.
We will update this story when the verdict is returned.