CHEYENNE – A seven-man, five-woman Laramie County jury found a Cheyenne man guilty Thursday of second-degree murder for fatally shooting another man after an argument over a marijuana pipe.
Charles “Charlie” Richmond, 78, was convicted of shooting John Paul “J.P.” Birgenheier three times with a shotgun after a Dec. 5, 2018, argument outside a home on Belaire Avenue.
Richmond was originally charged with first-degree murder. Prior to deliberations, jurors were told in a 31-part instruction document they could consider second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in their discussions if they found Richmond not guilty of the more serious crime.
During witness testimony, Laramie County assistant district attorneys had tried to prove to the jury that Richmond had time to think and plan the murder after the two men had argued, while defense attorneys said Richmond shot Birgenheier in self-defense.
Wyoming statute defines second-degree murder as a killing that is committed “purposely and maliciously, but without premeditation.”
The day began with defense attorneys resting their case without calling any witness. Richmond did not take the stand in his own defense.
Jury deliberations began shortly after 11 a.m. Jurors took more than five hours to reach a verdict.
After the verdict was read, Richmond appeared to tell the judge in a soft-spoken voice that he intended to appeal. State statute allows a defendant 30 days to file an appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Richmond was remanded to the custody of Laramie County deputies pending a sentencing hearing.
According to trial testimony, the two men were living on the same property. Richmond was renting a basement room in the house, while Birgenheier was living in a camper on the property.
Jurors on Wednesday viewed a video recording of Richmond’s interview with Cheyenne Police Department Detective Jim Harper, which took place shortly after Richmond’s arrest on Dec. 5. In the interview, Richmond painted Birgenheier as the initial aggressor, saying he came to his room and knocked him down to the floor as the argument ensued.
Richmond said in the interview that after Birgenheier left the room, he went upstairs from the basement and told Birgenheier to leave the property because he didn’t pay rent. Richmond said he later shot Birgenheier only after he began to charge toward him.
Harper described Richmond as agitated and worked up, but lucid in his comments.
Other state witnesses said Birgenheier “threw his weight around,” was known to argue with his girlfriend and “would get violent if he didn’t get his way.”
Birgenheier’s longtime girlfriend, Dawn Smith, testified that he had gone into the house to Richmond’s room to recover his pipe. Upon returning to the camper, Smith said Birgenheier told her that Richmond had taken a swing at him, then fell to the ground.
Smith testified that Birgenheier then made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which she said took around 10 minutes. She said she heard three gunshots immediately after Birgenheier left the camper to smoke.
During closing arguments Thursday, assistant district attorney Caitlin Harper told the jury she would demonstrate how long “a minimum of eight minutes” was by staying silent for what seemed like a long period of time.
It was only four minutes. She then told the jury to “multiply that by two times” in an effort to show how much time passed between Birgenheier leaving the basement bedroom and the moment of the fatal shooting outside near the camper.
“He intentionally pulled that trigger,” Harper told the jury. “It was not an accident.”
Defense attorney Brian Quinn told jurors in his closing arguments that it was impossible to measure the amount of fear Richmond was going through at that moment.
“Not one witness saw the first shot,” Quinn said. Richmond continued to shoot until he no longer felt threatened by Birgenheier, he said.
Richmond had said in the CPD video interview that he shot Birgenheier only after Birgenheier began to charge toward him.
During deliberations, the jury sent notes asking to examine some items. However, those items were not admitted into evidence, and the request was denied by the court.
The jury also sent a question to District Judge Catherine Rogers, who presided over the trial, asking if the term “purposely” applied only to the killing. Rogers replied that jurors had already received all instructions, which included detailed definitions of self-defense, first-degree murder and second-degree murder, as well as manslaughter.
Attorneys for both sides concurred with the judge on the answers to those questions.
Defense attorneys left the courtroom immediately after the verdict was read and court adjourned. County assistant district attorneys deferred comment to Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove.