Charles Richmond

Charles Richmond

CHEYENNE – The murder trial of a Cheyenne man accused of fatally shooting another man after an argument over a marijuana pipe continued for a third day Wednesday in Laramie County District Court.

Charles “Charlie” Richmond, 78, is facing a first-degree murder charge after he allegedly shot John Paul “J.P.” Birgenheier three times with a shotgun after a Dec. 5, 2018, argument outside a home on Belaire Avenue.

District Judge Catherine Rogers is presiding.

Laramie County assistant district attorneys have attempted to prove to the jury that Richmond had time to think and plan the murder after the two men had argued, while defense attorneys say Richmond shot Birgenheier in self-defense.

The trial continued Wednesday with state’s witnesses, which included at times dramatic testimony from Birgenheier’s longtime girlfriend, Dawn Smith.

Smith, who is an inmate at the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk for an unrelated crime after her parole was revoked, said Richmond and Birgenheier had known each other for 12 years. They had gone hiking, rock hunting and stargazing together, she said.

The two men were living on the same property. Richmond was renting a basement room in the house, while Birgenheier and Smith were living in a camper on the property.

“He was our friend,” Smith said, unsuccessfully attempting to hold back tears.

Smith said Birgenheier 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.

“Charlie was going crazy,” she said Birgenheier told her.

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.

Smith said she didn’t hear anything outside prior to hearing gunshots. She said she opened the camper door, found Birgenheier screaming and fatally wounded behind the camper, then attempted CPR. She quoted Birgenheier in his last moments saying, “My arm’s gone. I love you, baby.”

Smith admitted she lied to a Cheyenne Police Department detective about her identity, since she was on parole.

“I still watch him die in my head,” she said.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Brian Quinn had Smith read her previous statement to police about the incident, which did not mention Birgenheier making a sandwich.

She said she believed, but did not see, that Richmond waited for Birgenheier outside the camper with the shotgun. She said she didn’t see Richmond fire the shots.

Jurors also saw video of Richmond’s interview with CPD Detective Jim Harper, which took place about 30 minutes 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 shot Birgenheier only after he began to charge toward him.

The video showed that Richmond sustained scratches on his back, along with what Harper described as a fresh rug burn.

Richmond told Harper during the interview that when he got angry “it was hard for me to turn it off.”

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.”

Jurors spent part of Tuesday looking at physical evidence, which included the multiple layers of clothing Birgenheier was wearing at the time, as well as Richmond’s shotgun and spent ammunition.

Without jury members in the room, Quinn told Rogers Wednesday afternoon that Richmond will not take the stand in his own defense. He also said defense council will not call any witnesses before they rest their case today.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. today with closing statements. The jury is expected to begin its deliberations shortly thereafter.

Steve Knight is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. He can be reached at 307-633-3182 or sknight@wyomingnews.com.

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