Nearly seven years ago Marine veteran John Knospler Jr. was sleeping off a night in his car outside of a strip club. In the midst of a snowstorm another man trying to get into his car woke him.
Minutes later that man was dead. Knospler had driven away and was soon stopped by police.
The multiple-combat tour recon Marine had been out of the service since 2008 and was visiting his dad near Casper, Wyoming, on a hunting trip.
Nearly seven years later, he is forced to call Wyoming home because he has been serving prison time for second-degree murder in the death of James “Kade” Baldwin, 24.
Tuesday his attorney tried to give Knospler another chance at freedom. More hearings are to come, but if this effort fails the now 39-year-old faces his full sentence of 30 to 50 years.
Knospler and his attorneys at trial and since have said that he was simply defending himself: That Baldwin punched through the glass window of his 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt. Knospler drew and fired his .45-caliber 1911 Army handgun.
He left the scene because in the snow he didn’t know if Baldwin was alone or more people were trying to get in the car after him, Knospler told Marine Corps Times in a call from prison.
“Everything I’ve been taught up to that point, when you come under attack ― reduce the threat and create space,” he said.
Knospler said that he drove away and was trying to find a local sheriff’s deputy station he’d seen when he arrived in town for his hunting trip.
Instead he was pulled over and soon arrested. That stop was recorded, one of the first things John said he told police was that “someone tried to kill me.”
Prosecutors at the December 2014 trial claimed that Baldwin didn’t punch the glass out, that instead Knospler shot unnecessarily and killed the man who had simply confused the Cobalt for his own car.
Tuesday’s hearing was an effort at another look at multiple tests that Knospler’s attorney told Marine Corps Times shows that glass was broken from the outside in.
Jerry Soucie has taken up Knospler’s appeal.
He told Marine Corps Times that he was set to retire after decades in criminal defense when a friend asked him to look at the case.
“I looked at it and it just didn’t look right,” he said.
The key, he said, is that there wasn’t enough forensic analysis.
Marine Corps Times did not receive responses from either the retired prosecutor from the 2013 trial or the current prosecutor handling the state’s case in Knospler’s appeal.
Nobody disputes that Knospler shot Baldwin and that was what killed the man. And there hasn’t been any indication that either of them even interacted in the strip club, let alone had any problem with one another.
The argument is whether Knospler overreacted or was defending himself.
And a living defendant’s word over a deceased victim doesn’t quite give all the facts.
But new evidence might.
Soucie has had about a dozen shooting tests done to show that had his client shot out the window from the inside there would have been different patterns. Previously, he has tried to get retesting done on Knospler’s gun, because Baldwin may have grabbed the weapon, leaving key DNA.
Also, examinations of Baldwin’s body showing lacerations on his hands and arms, another detail that might show a judge or jury that his hands went through the window at some point.
But that attempt at new evidence and evaluations has failed.
Tuesday’s hearing will determine whether Soucie even gets the chance to try and have the 160 exhibits, including testimony from the trial defense attorney, lead investigator and multiple experts before the state court to review.
If that’s successful then another hearing, going some or all of those items will be seen by a judge.
And that judge will determine whether Knospler gets another crack at freedom.
Note: This story has been corrected. Knospler did not call 911 but did speak to police when he was stopped after the shooting. Also, the prosecutor’s theory was that Knospler shot from inside his vehicle at Baldwin, who was outside the car.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.