Iraq War Vet Fights For Freedom In Wyoming Stand-Your-Ground Case

(Courtesy the Knospler family)

Matthew M. Burke Contributor
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Former U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran John Henry Knospler, Jr. admitted to killing James Kade Baldwin outside a Casper, Wyoming, strip club in the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2013, but claims he shot the 24-year-old Casper native in self-defense.

Knospler says he was sleeping in his car rather than drive intoxicated from the bar when an angry Baldwin inexplicably bashed in his window and violently attacked him.

Despite evidence that appeared to back Knospler’s claims, the 38-year-old was convicted of second-degree murder on Dec. 23, 2014, and sentenced to up to 50 years in prison. His sole appeal was denied by the Wyoming Supreme Court in 2016.

Knospler has vehemently maintained his innocence over the years, and he recently filed a motion seeking to vacate his conviction based primarily on new forensic evidence. It is largely seen as what could be his last and best chance of getting a new trial.

“I’m hopeful, you know,” Knospler told The Daily Caller in a January phone interview from the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington. “I feel terrible that their family lost a son. I feel a whole lot for them. But I put myself in his shoes. If I punched through somebody’s window in the middle of the night and caught a bullet to my chest, that’s what I would expect someone to do to me. I did what I thought was necessary.”

Knospler’s case has been largely ignored in the greater national Second Amendment and stand-your-ground debates. Race does not appear to be a factor in the case, as both Knospler and Baldwin are white.

Wyoming law allows someone to use deadly force in self-defense if they believe they are in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.

The burden is on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant did not act in self-defense.

Knospler grew up on a small farm in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania — the oldest of three siblings. There, he, along with his father, John Sr.; mother, Patricia; brother, Jacob; and sister, Leighanne, lived a rustic lifestyle. They played outdoors, raised livestock and grew their own vegetables. They also fished, and Knospler’s father hunted.

Knospler was athletic and grew up playing sports like baseball, football and soccer with his brother.

Knospler as a boy (Courtesy the Knospler family)

Knospler as a boy (Courtesy the Knospler family)

“We went on trips. My parents thought it was really important that we saw certain things in the country,” Knospler said. “They took us to Gettysburg, to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They thought it was important that we see those things when we were young to have an understanding of what our country was founded on.”

His parents stressed the importance of education, but they also stressed the importance of service. Knospler’s father is a Navy veteran.

After he graduated high school, Knospler bounced around, rudderless, for about year. He was a dishwasher at a restaurant, then he worked construction. He tried a semester of college before deciding to join the Marine Corps.

“That whole year, I was in conversation with my dad and he was kind of dropping hints like, ‘Hey, I know you, and I think the service will probably be the best thing for you, just because I don’t think you’re ready for a classroom and you don’t want to stay here and get stuck doing construction for the rest of your life,’” he recounted.

Knospler joined the Marines in 2000. His first duty station was Hawaii and the 3rd Marine Regiment, where he served as an accounting clerk.

“I have an attention to detail and was able to pick out the errors and figure them out, how and why things were not in order,” Knospler said. “It was essential to that unit, but to me, I felt like I could be doing more.”

Knospler was already looking for a new job within the Corps when the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, occurred. He wanted to join the fight so he decided then to become a reconnaissance Marine, which is considered elite.

Recon Marines — as they are often times called — are responsible for getting close to the enemy and observing and reporting their movements, the majority of the time unseen.

By December 2002, Knospler had joined 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, and by the following summer, he deployed to southern Iraq.

“My first deployment, we were hiding in the bushes, just taking pictures of boats,” Knospler recalled. “We were never seen.”

Knospler with other Marines (Courtesy the Knospler family)

Knospler with other Marines (Courtesy the Knospler family)

By the time they returned stateside, Knospler was just months from getting out of the Corps — but then tragedy struck. A team from their parent unit was ambushed and nearly wiped out in Iraq and they needed replacements. Knospler volunteered and was sent on a seven-month deployment to Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, the seven months preceding the Second Battle of Fallujah.

“That deployment was a lot more stressful; it was a lot more dangerous,” Knospler said. “But, again, we were doing reconnaissance, and we were smart about what we were doing, and for the most part, we remained out of sight.”

Knospler re-enlisted there. Upon returning home, he joined 1st Force Reconnaissance Company.

He wasn’t home long. Knospler was sent back to Iraq a third time to train Iraqi Special Forces.

When he got back from that deployment, he was assigned to the new Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command as a reconnaissance instructor in MARSOC’s special missions’ training branch. His job was to get the new Marine Special Forces operators ready to deploy.

MARSOC was his last stop in the Marine Corps before being discharged in 2008.

Knospler’s friends recall him as cool under pressure, brave, hard-working, intelligent, driven, funny and always positive.

“People don’t understand, it’s real easy to make a poor choice under duress with a rifle in your hand in combat,” said Stephen Mull, who served with Knospler for several years in elite Marine units and later worked with him as a contractor. “He never did that. It’s rare to find guys like him.”

Scott Lehman — who also served with Knospler in Iraq — recounted a story when a child came out in the road while their unit was traveling in a convoy and waved a gun at them. The rules of engagement allowed them to engage because U.S. forces had been taking fire from women and children.

According to a transcript of the proceedings, Lehman recalled at trial:

I remember bearing down and locking in. And I remember John saying, ‘Easy, easy, easy,’ beside me. And this is a matter of, like, five or six seconds. And then we noticed the kids put the gun down and they ran back behind the house, and it was over. He showed an enormous amount of professionalism, of judgment, of control and of tact while operating as a Recon Marine.

After the Corps, Knospler had no intention of sitting still. The day he was discharged from the Marines, he was on a plane to Uganda to work for an American security contractor involved in peacekeeping operations there, he said.

He declined to provide the name of the company, saying he didn’t want to drag them into his legal battles.

Knospler spent time in Somalia, Sudan and Congo in his five years there supporting African troops.

“They were providing security for the U.N. and just, overall, trying to stabilize the place and trying to get some food in there and create some industry and economy and just generally trying to help the people out,” he said.

John Knospler Knospler with other Marines (Courtesy the Knospler family)

John Knospler (Courtesy the Knospler family)

Though these places are dangerous, Knospler said he was generally above the fray. He was jumped and beaten, however, by a gang of five-to-10 men during an attempted robbery in the Congo, shortly before he returned home in 2012. They broke his arm, which required surgery and the implantation of a plate.

Back in the United States, Knospler enrolled in college courses online while he tried to heal. He continued to work on U.S. military contracts and traveled frequently, visiting family and friends — especially his brother, Jacob, who had also joined the Marines and had been seriously wounded fighting in Fallujah in 2004. He also spent a lot of time with his girlfriend, Nhiza Fre, in Virginia.

In October 2013, his father asked Knospler to take his brother’s place on a hunting trip to Wyoming, Knospler recalled. He gathered his belongings and drove out from Pennsylvania in his mother’s dark blue 2008 Chevy Cobalt.

‘This guy is huge’

Knospler and his father hunted for a few days but it was tedious, he said.

“All growing up, my brother and my dad were really into [hunting],” he said. “I wasn’t in much to hunting or killing animals.”

Fre was scheduled to come out to Wyoming in a few days to do some traveling in the area. While he waited, Knospler decided to see some other parts of the state.

“That’s what brought me to Casper,” he said. “I had a ton of money, and I was just traveling all around the country at that time. I had no idea that a snowstorm was coming.”

When he arrived in Casper, Knospler went to a thrift store and had some lunch. As someone who gambled on football, he asked where he might catch a game that night. Someone told him about Racks Gentleman’s Club, located off the highway west of town.

Knospler entered the club at approximately 5:20 p.m. on Oct. 3, 2013, according to the motion filed by his attorneys, citing Racks’ video surveillance tapes.

Knospler downed a few shots and drank some beers. He was described as awkward or weird by the staff members who conversed with him, but he mostly kept to himself, texting Fre constantly.

Knospler exited the club four times, which employees said they thought was strange. He said he was smoking cannabis, checking the snowfall and moving his car to the front of Racks so he could see it better.

“The owner said he saw me outside dancing around with my shirt off, which was completely ridiculous,” Knospler said.

“They tried to make it like this big thing that I was in and out of the place all night — like it was some type of suspicious activity that I was up to no good — which was complete nonsense. I went outside; I smoked a couple times, checked on the roads and I made a couple phone calls.”

Knospler said he may have discussed his service but denies talking about killing people that night, something that was alleged by a couple of employees in discussions with police. He said the dancers were trying to hustle him for lap dances. He wasn’t interested and believes this was the reason the club employees had animosity toward him.

Knospler in uniform (Courtesy the Knospler family)

Knospler in uniform (Courtesy the Knospler family)

Baldwin — a big man at 6 ft., 2 in. and 230 pounds — arrived at the bar with two friends, Chris Syverson and Kara Sterner, just after 8:30 p.m., according to the motion. It was Baldwin’s birthday, and he drank heavily.

Knospler said that the only interaction he had with Baldwin prior to the shooting was a run-in in the Racks bathroom. Knospler overheard Baldwin and a friend talking about it being his birthday. Knospler offered to “smoke him up” for his birthday.

They exited the bar together at about 9:40 p.m., according to the motion, which again cites Racks surveillance footage.

As Knospler recalled, “[Baldwin] sat in the car, and we smoked together, and, you know, he was telling me about how he had just got a DUI and was in prison or whatever.”

“And I told him, ‘Look, man, none of that stuff matters anymore. The only thing that matters in life is what we do today and what we do tomorrow and that’s it.’ And he was like, ‘You know, you’re a pretty cool dude.’ And I’m like, ‘Yea, you know, whatever, happy birthday,’ and we just bullshitted for a couple of minutes.”

They re-entered five minutes later, according to the security camera.

At trial, Natrona County district attorney Michael Blonigen said that marijuana was not detected in Baldwin’s system during his autopsy.

The men had no further contact for the remainder of the evening, the motion said.

Racks bouncer Ervin Andujar told police that he asked Knospler to leave the bar after Knospler dropped a marijuana cigarette. Knospler disputes this; he said he left of his own volition at approximately 10:10 p.m.

Fre said she was the one who pushed him to sleep in his car instead of drive drunk. He agreed.

“I just went out to my car, smoked a little bit and went to sleep,” Knospler said.

Baldwin stayed behind and continued to drink. At around midnight, Syverson departed in Baldwin’s brother’s dark blue 2006 Ford Fusion to drop off Sterner. He said he would return to pick Baldwin up. Not long after, Baldwin passed out on his table. Andujar told police that he asked him to leave and escorted him out at approximately 12:15 a.m.

Andujar offered to call Baldwin a cab, but Baldwin said his friend was waiting outside.

Witnesses testified that Baldwin went directly to Knospler’s car. He first tried the passenger side door, apparently thinking the snow-covered car was his brother’s. Then he went to the front and then to the driver’s side.

Witnesses said they then saw him fall. Knospler’s car took off. It all happened in a three-minute window, according to the surveillance footage.

No gunshots were heard by any of the people at the scene.

Natrona County Sheriff’s Office investigator Sean Ellis believes that Baldwin thought Knospler’s vehicle was his own.

“I truly believe that the victim misidentified the car,” Ellis said.

Knospler doesn’t know what was going through Baldwin’s mind at the time. As he recalled, “I go to sleep, and then I hear somebody trying to get in my car.”

“All of a sudden, I got somebody pounding on my driver’s side window and people yelling at me, telling me, ‘I’m taking it. Get out of the [expletive] car,’ and I’m way back in the chair.”

Knospler said that Baldwin shouted he was going to kill him.

“I don’t know whether he thought I was in his car or he was just trying to intimidate me, but he was definitely there to do some combat,” Knospler said. “He was looking right at me, and he’s trying to be scary.”

Knospler said he sat up and tried to drive away. He had decided he wasn’t going to get out and fight.

“I got a metal plate in my arm, and this guy is huge,” he said. “I’m trying to start the car and the window explodes on me, and I’m seeing stars now because I think he catches me in the side of the head, and so I’m disoriented.”

Knospler said that Baldwin punched in the window. He either peeled out or stalled, but the vehicle wouldn’t budge. Baldwin reached into the car to get him.

“His torso is in the window, and he’s impeding me from operating the vehicle,” Knospler recalled.

“My first instinct was to drive away. But now, my car is not moving, this dude is on top of me, and I don’t feel like I [can] get back into controlling the vehicle with him through my window occupying my driver’s side space.”

Knospler said he leaned into the passenger seat to get away from Baldwin. He took his .45 semi-automatic Nighthawk pistol out of a bag on the seat. At that moment, he claims Baldwin reached for it.

“I don’t have any choice at this point because he keeps grabbing for things, grabbing for me; he had to have seen the gun come out of the bag, and once I pointed it at him, he starts grabbing for it and he’s not backing away,” he said. “I was in fear for my life. I would never hurt him if I wasn’t convinced that he was going to do what he was saying he’s going to do.”

Knospler fired one round into Baldwin. It entered just below the neck, exited in the lower back and went into a truck behind him. Baldwin stepped back and fell down.

As Knospler said:

I think what [stand your ground] means is employing enough force to survive and not take on any personal harm or injury. I’m not obligated to stand there and fight it out with this guy in the street, in my estimation. A few shots to the head and, you know, I’m brain injured for the rest of my life. And if he gets a hold of my gun, now it’s a completely different story.

Knospler didn’t know if there were more attackers, so he fled, he said. He decided to drive to the sheriff’s department. He didn’t know if Baldwin’s friends would give chase, so he wasn’t going to stop until he got there.

Knospler was pulled over by police at about 12:25 a.m., The Casper Star-Tribune reported.

Police observed “extensive small squares of broken glass” on his car’s dash, speedometer tunnel, center console, front passenger side floor and passenger side door, his new attorney Jerry Soucie said.

The first police officer arrived at Racks at 12:23 a.m., about five minutes after someone called 911. Baldwin was pronounced dead on the scene at about 12:35 a.m. after attempts to resuscitate him failed.

Knospler decided not to talk to the police; however, transcripts indicate he did tell them that he had had glass broken “on” him and he said he wanted to press charges against Baldwin.

Glass fell off of him in the interview room and he suggested that police collect it as evidence.

Knospler’s blood alcohol content was .13 when it was tested several hours after the shooting. Baldwin’s was .206 at his autopsy.

Knospler was charged with a single count of second-degree homicide on Oct. 7, 2013, according to The Casper Star-Tribune. His attorneys said at that hearing that Knospler had shot Baldwin in self-defense.

“He shot an unarmed man for no good reason,” Blonigen said in response to why Knospler was charged.

The trial

In the run-up to the trial, police investigators and the prosecution attempted to determine what had happened that night.

Knospler refused to talk for fear that they might try to use what was said against him. He also wouldn’t entertain a plea agreement with any substantial prison time attached.

Ellis and Natrona County assistant district attorney Joshua Stensaas, the prosecuting attorney on the case, had questions.

The district attorney’s office hired John Daily, a retired Wyoming deputy sheriff and detective with over 25 years of law enforcement experience, to reconstruct the shooting.

“I’ve done a fair amount of work for that office in the past, primarily on traffic crashes,” Daily told the Caller. “They were seeing things that just didn’t make sense to them. So then they called me.”

Daily — who also has a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering — wanted to know if Knospler could have driven away before shooting Baldwin and if he had fired through a closed window or if it had already been broken.

Daily looked over the photos from Racks that night and charted the path of the bullet. He determined that because of a snow-free area under Knospler’s car and the car’s tracks pulling away, the vehicle had to have moved forward for the angles of the bullet to make sense. He also found photographic evidence that the car had lost traction and spun out.

Daily believed Knospler had been unable to continue forward and away from the scene.

“In my opinion, based on the evidence I have seen, a reasonable scenario is that Knospler tried to drive away from the confrontation with Baldwin, but was not able to do so because he lost traction on the snowy surface in front of his vehicle as he accelerated away from the parking space,” Daily’s report said.

In regard to the window, the autopsy showed fresh lacerations on Baldwin’s right knuckles and arm.

Daily also surmised that the glass distributed throughout the passenger compartment could only have happened if the window was busted in, not shot out.

“These injuries to Baldwin are consistent with him punching out the window and subsequently getting far enough onto the passenger compartment of the vehicle to receive the dicing and lacerations on his upper right arm near the shoulder,” Daily wrote in the report. “This also accounts for a force coming into the passenger compartment on the driver’s side and causing a wide dispersion of glass within the passenger compartment.”

Daily also looked at the angle of the bullet through the body and into the truck.

“These place Baldwin within the passenger compartment,” he wrote.

Daily suggested the state shoot through curved, tempered side windows to map glass dispersion and also wet samples of fabric after shoot tests to mimic Baldwin’s T-shirt and the snow, blood and water and how they may have impacted tests for gunshot residue.

“I wanted to just shoot the damn windows but they were all, ‘You can’t do that.’” Daily recalled. “Why they didn’t do what they should have done, I don’t know. I really don’t have a clue.”

Ellis and Stensaas also requested the shoot testing experiments to attempt to answer the window question, they said. The request was turned down by Blonigen, who said the tests were of little value.

Stensaas believed that Baldwin had punched in the window.

“I believe Baldwin punched out the window, and I believe Knospler tagged him awful quick with that .45,” he said. Stensaas has since left Natrona for Johnson County.

Knospler with a fish (Courtesy the Knospler family)

Knospler with a fish (Courtesy the Knospler family)

As the trial loomed, Stensaas began to have a crisis of conscience. He said he may have reacted the same way as Knospler — even if it was unreasonable — if he found himself in a similar situation.

He also disagreed with Blonigen’s theory that Knospler had fired through his own window at Baldwin and Blonigen’s decision not to do the shoot testing experiments.

Stensaas recused himself from the prosecution team. He said:

My difficulty in being on this case — or, my difficulty with wanting to proceed with this case — was my own personal perception of how I may have reacted. I operate on conviction and belief. I would not stand there and say, ‘I don’t think that this is reasonable,’ if I believed there was any chance that I would have reacted stupidly or poorly in the same situation.

Blonigen stepped in and took over prosecuting duties. Knospler was represented by Joseph Low IV from California.

The trial started on Dec. 14, 2014, and lasted seven days, The Casper Star-Tribune reported.

Low said he was shocked when he learned that the prosecution intended to prove that Knospler shot through his own closed window and that Baldwin had not punched it in. Yet he was confident with the evidence.

Blonigen lauded Daily for being an “excellent” accident reconstructionist but said he should not have been hired to work the Knospler case. He said that he was hired just because Stensaas was trying to “dump” the case.

Blonigen declined to call Daily as a witness. Instead, he would testify for the defense.

Blonigen said there were several reasons why he thought what they were doing was right: Knospler didn’t talk to police, nor did he testify; he told police there was “no altercation” that night after he was pulled over; there were microscopic glass fragments — described at trial as “very minute” and “not many” — found on Baldwin’s skin around the entry wound; Baldwin’s DNA was not found on Knospler or in the car, and even if Knospler was telling the truth, he believed he still could have driven away.

“That’s one of the big problems we have here is nobody’s ever said he was in danger or fear for his life,” Blonigen said.

Knospler said he didn’t talk to police because he distrusts law enforcement, something that was only strengthened by this experience; he didn’t testify because he assumed Blonigen would bring up past events like a previous assault, and he told police there was no altercation because he had not provoked or been involved in the assault. He said the glass fragments could have been pulled out of the window by Baldwin or applied from contact with ground, rags that were used to stop Baldwin’s bleeding, first responders or from the body being placed in a body bag with glass.

“So he falls, you know, and there’s glass where he falls,” Knospler said. “He’s rolled over; they pull his shirt up; people are handling him. They put rags on the ground; they put them on his chest. And then he’s put in a body bag. He’s carried around in the bag and there’s glass in there with him, and so there [are] a whole number of chances where glass can get on to this guy.”

Some of the most powerful testimony came from Steven Norris, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation’s firearm and tool mark section supervisor, and Dr. John Carver, the forensic pathologist who performed Baldwin’s autopsy.

Norris testified that bullet wipe — or the soot from the surface of a bullet that is wiped off on the skin or a garment as a bullet penetrates — could still be present after a bullet passes through a window.

Clear examples of bullet wipe were observed on Baldwin’s T-shirt after the shooting.

Norris also testified that glass can react counter-intuitively after being struck by a bullet, which would explain the glass spread throughout Knospler’s car. Carver testified that Baldwin had minute glass fragments lodged in the wound on his right hand. He said it was consistent with striking a window.

The prosecution and defense butted heads as they both tried to introduce — and block the introduction of — information about the men’s pasts.

Jurors heard about how Baldwin had previously punched a man with cerebral palsy. They did not hear, however, that he had been convicted of burglarizing over a dozen vehicles, driving recklessly, eluding police and had visited child and bestiality pornography websites on his phone.

Jurors heard about how Knospler was disciplined in the Marine Corps for an alcohol-related incident. They did not hear how he had struck another Marine with a beer bottle in a fight in 2002.

Knospler was also arrested in June 2014 in Arizona for unlawful flight and possession of a controlled substance while out on bond, The Casper Star-Tribune reported. Knospler said the charges were a misunderstanding, and they were subsequently dropped.

Baldwin was portrayed by friends and family as a peaceful cancer survivor; Knospler, a war hero.

Knospler said he was nervous but confident heading into jury deliberations.

“Of course you’re nervous because you can never tell what’s going to happen but, you know, my friends were there, my family was there, and I thought we were going to go out and have a good dinner and head on home,” he recalled.

The jury was instructed by Natrona County District Judge Thomas Sullins to consider who had been the aggressor, Knospler or Baldwin. If they believed Knospler to be the aggressor, they were told self-defense was not valid if he could have safely retreated but failed to do so. If Baldwin was the aggressor, self-defense would be justified if they felt Knospler had pursued or considered reasonable alternatives.

Knospler was convicted on Dec. 23, 2014, according to The Casper Star-Tribune. The 12-person jury — 10 women and two men — deliberated for two hours and 15 minutes before announcing their verdict.

Ultimately, Low doesn’t believe the jurors were hung up on who smashed the window. He said, in hindsight, he probably should have done the shoot testing, but he doesn’t believe it would have changed the result.

“It wasn’t about how it happened as much as why,” Low said. “They wanted to see John flee the scene [and not use deadly force].”

Blonigen said he feels as though justice was served.

“I think he got a fair trial,” Blonigen said. “The simple fact is, there was never a good explanation for shooting Mr. Baldwin. I mean, that’s the heart of this case.”

Knospler’s friends and family were stunned or outraged.

Fre, who is still an active-duty officer in the Marine Corps, said:

I was heartbroken for John, who[m] I felt was betrayed by people and the system he risked his life to protect. For years, John and I struggled in a long-distance relationship. For once, we were in the same location with serious intentions of building a family, and then this disaster occurs. I was heartbroken for us because our future together was taken.

Knospler’s friends from the Marine Corps were angry.

“This is a stain on America,” said Knospler’s friend Rudy Reyes, a former Marine who served with Knospler, best known for acting in the HBO television series “Generation Kill.” “This guy’s an American hero. There’s no reason at all he should be behind bars for fighting and protecting himself.”

Knospler with other Marines (Courtesy the Knospler family)

Knospler with other Marines (Courtesy the Knospler family)

“If we, as Americans, really believe in the Constitution and believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, justice, social justice and also honoring those that put it all on the line for us day in and day out, without asking for anything in return; if we cannot take care of these men, then who are we as Americans?”

Reyes said he no longer trusts the justice system because of Knospler’s conviction.

“[Baldwin] went out to the car while John was sleeping and attacked him. If John was a woman, he wouldn’t have even been indicted,” Mull added, becoming emotional. “The whole thing is trash and it sickens me.”

A glimmer of hope

In the years since his conviction, Knospler hasn’t given up on his case. He continues to coordinate his defense from behind bars.

Daily wrote a letter to Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, attempting to secure a pardon for him but Mead took no action.

Despite it all, Knospler is determined to make the best of his time behind bars. He wakes up at 5 a.m. each day, washes up, makes coffee, then studies until around noon.

He plans to finish his Bachelor’s degree this summer and start his Master of Business Administration in the fall.

After lunch, he works out, showers, studies again until dinner, watches some TV, then he studies some more and makes phone calls before bed.

“Same thing every day, not much to it,” he said. “Everything is adequate. Like life, prison is largely what you make of it.”

Friends say he still hasn’t lost his trademark sense of humor and positive attitude through it all.

“It’s not much different from living aboard a navy ship, except prison is much better,” he said. “The bad part is the length of stay.”

Knospler is also on the prison’s hospice team, he said. It is a volunteer group that makes sure no prisoner dies alone.

Friends say he has burnt through $500,000 in savings fighting for his freedom.

“They know what they did was wrong,” Knospler said of the district attorney’s office. “Because I refused to give up my rights they painted the worst possible picture of me. They ignored evidence, colleagues and the truth. They misrepresented my character and used my service against me.”

Knospler said he is hopeful that this latest motion — a petition for post-conviction relief — filed by Soucie, might be enough to get him a new trial and hopefully exonerate him.

The motion alleges that both Knospler’s conviction and sentence were obtained by violating his rights under the Constitution.

“Mr. Knospler alleges that the State presented materially misleading, inaccurate and false forensic evidence and opinions through the testimony of Steve Norris of the Wyoming Crime Laboratory and others in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the decision in Miller v. Pate, 386 U.S. 1 (1967) and its progeny,” the motion reads.

Soucie went and did the shoot testing that Blonigen had refused to do. The motion argues that those tests prove the state’s case against Knospler was bogus.

“We did a total of 10 shoots through Cobalt glass using a .45,” Soucie said.

The tests revealed that a bullet traveling through a window is inconsistent with what was found at the scene in almost every way.

In every test in which a bullet went through glass, Soucie said they found long, narrow shards of glass, two-and-a-half to four-and-a-half inches, forced outward and remaining in the door.

There weren’t any long, narrow shards found in the Racks parking lot or in Knospler’s car.

When a bullet impacts tempered glass, it causes the bullet to become deformed. It is knocked off its axis and there is a reduction in its velocity.

The entrance holes on Baldwin’s T-shirt and body are not jagged, nor do they resemble what is referred to as a “keyhole,” which is what would be observed if the bullet had been damaged or knocked off its axis.

The tests showed that there is no bullet wipe on the clothing after a bullet passes through a glass window.

And there was no glass projected back toward the firearm or inside the vehicle once a bullet passed through the window, though some did fall down just inside the vehicle from the top of the window.

They also hit the window with a mallet on the end of a pendulum.

“Blunt force to the side of the driver’s side window results in small cubes of glass and the distribution under this scenario is identical to that found at the crime scene,” Soucie said. “There was a significant amount of small cubes of glass on the dash and project to the passenger side of the Cobalt.”

Experts tend to back Knospler and the testing done by Soucie, at least on certain fundamentals.

“If the projectile had gone through glass, the likelihood that it would still be nice and stable and nose-forward to create that round hole and then impart bullet wipe is unlikely,” said Michael Haag, a 20-year veteran of the Albuquerque Police Department, a forensic science consultant and author of “Shooting Incident Reconstruction,” which is considered an authority on the subject.

“That characteristic bullet hole — nice and round, with bullet wipe — suggests absolutely that it did not go through glass first. [The defense’s] conclusion is absolutely valid.”

Haag also said that if a bullet had gone through glass, glass would be embedded in the bullet and would likely be found blasted into the T-shirt of the person who was shot and would be found around and inside the wound. No such glass was found.

Haag said that it was “inaccurate” and “wrong” to assume that there was little value in doing shoot testing to attempt to discern what had happened that night. He said the lawyers should have listened to Daily.

The testing “has huge value and implications in courtroom proceedings,” Haag said. “This kind of empirical testing that answers the very questions you’re asking about is going on all over the world, in every country, and it’s, absolutely – if the experimentation is done properly and with the right mindset of simply basing it on the physical evidence and not on anything else – is reliable; it is critical to actually figuring out what happened in cases like this.”

He said testing could have resolved the issue “pretty simply” in this case.

The motion also claims that Low made mistakes at trial and the jury instructions should have labeled Baldwin the aggressor.

The motion reads:

The jury instructions were erroneous because the State’s false and misleading evidence incorrectly suggested that Mr. Baldwin might not have been the first aggressor when the opposite was factually true. It is apparent that the ‘first aggressor’ threshold question as identified by the [Wyoming] Supreme Court should NOT have been in dispute under a correct understanding of the evidence and conducting the re-enactment as recommended by Mr. Daily.

The motion was officially accepted by the court on Feb. 13, with a copy sent to the attorney general’s office.

Now, all Knospler can do is wait.

“In the beginning, it was heartbreaking,” Knospler said. “But once you get over that, you just have to make the best of it.”

For more information on Knospler’s defense and case, visit

Matthew M. Burke