A defense attorney argued Tuesday that his client was shooting in self-defense when he wounded a deputy sheriff while firing at narcotics officers serving a "no knock" search warrant on his home in January.
Karl "Willie" Winsness, 37, charged with attempted first-degree murder in the Jan. 22 shooting of Deputy Keith Rogers, lived in a "murky and different world of drugs," and shot out of fear at what he believed to be intruders into his Rose Park home, his attorney Robert VanSciver said in opening arguments before 3rd District Court Judge Raymond S. Uno.But Deputy Salt Lake County Attorney Rick MacDougall said Winsness did not shoot in self-defense when the five officers who had reason to believe Winsness had sold heroin from his home tried to break down a barricaded door.
The opening arguments, made after a five-woman, two-man jury was seated Tuesday afternoon, bring to the fore Utah's defense-of-habitation law. That law, expanded in 1985, says a person is justified in forcefully defending his home against unlawful intrusion.
Under the law, force can be used to stop the entry of another person if that person is believed to have gained entry in a violent manner, surreptitiously or by stealth, with intent to commit assault or felony.
"I don't know of a case that has a more dramatic confrontation of principle and authority," VanSciver said, pointing to the collision of police authority with a citizen's right to defend himself.
The prosecution announced a list of roughly 20 witnesses. The defense plans to call only two witnesses during the trial, which Uno said will last three to four days.
Witnesses testified narcotics officers from the sheriff's department believed Winsness had sold heroin from his home at 448 N. Ninth West, and laid plans to burst into Winsness' home about 8:30 p.m. Deputy Sheriff Leslie Taylor called Winsness' home to determine whether he was home.
"Willie, are you there?" Taylor testified she asked someone who answered the phone. She did not identify herself and hung up when Winsness asked who the caller was.
It was that phone call that put Winsness, a paranoid man freshly out of prison who slept with a gun at his side, into a high-strung state of paranoia, VanSciver told the jury.
After establishing someone was inside the home, five narcotics officers closed in on the front porch with a "no knock" search warrant permitting them to enter the defendant's residence without announcing who they were, MacDougall said.
But Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Alexander testified it was his custom to announce "sheriff's office" when serving a no-knock warrant.
Alexander testified an officer kicked open the door while he and other officers simultaneously yelled "sheriff's office" loudly and clearly. The door, however, struck a barrier inside the home and swung shut, forcing the officer to again kick the door and simultaneously announce their presence, he said.
Immediately, four or five shots rang out, Alexander said. MacDougall earlier said one of those shots passed through Rogers' arm and into his chest, seriously wounding him.
"I think I'm hit, boss," Alexander testified Rogers said as they ran from the door for cover seconds after the shots were fired.
But Vansciver told the jury that after Winsness received the phone call, he became suspicious and armed himself. The next thing Winsness knew someone was attempting to break into his home.
"He (Winsness) thinks he's going to be robbed and later he tells the police `I thought those punks were coming in,"' VanSciver told the jury.
Winsness never heard the the shouts announcing sheriff's officers were at the door, VanSciver said.
"Willie will tell you nobody, not one soul, ever said one word about being a police officer," VanSciver told the jury. He said that when Winsness got to the police station he told officers, "I shot in self-defense."