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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Shaun Cowley, (left) a former West Valley police officer who shot and killed Danielle Willard, 21, in November 2012, leaves his hearing with his attorneys, including Paul Cassell (right) who just joined the case, believe Cowley should never have been charged, Monday, July 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City.

WEST VALLEY CITY — More support was announced Wednesday for former West Valley police detective Shaun Cowley's legal defense.

The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, a national group that helps protect the legal rights of law enforcement professionals, has agreed to step in and help Cowley's defense against a criminal charge of manslaughter.

Cowley, 33, was charged in the shooting death of 21-year-old Danielle Willard during a botched drug operation on Nov. 2, 2012. The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office determined the shooting was not legally justified in August 2013, and criminal charges were filed in June.

The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund is a nonprofit organization that specializes "in assisting law enforcement officers across the country who, amongst other things, have been wrongfully charged with using excessive use of force in the line of duty," according to a statement from Cowley's attorney, Lindsay Jarvis. The group consists of former FBI agents and attorneys general.

The legal defense fund believes that Cowley acted in self-defense when Willard attempted to flee the scene, and will provide "both financial assistance and legal expertise for Cowley," Jarvis said.

"We reviewed the facts of Shaun's case very closely and found them compelling. We noted with dismay that the district attorney's office took 18 months to second guess a decision that Shaun had to make under two seconds," the group said in a prepared statement.

In July, Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor and former federal judge, also joined Cowley's defense team.

"The support detective Cowley has received from the LELDF further confirms that the charges filed against detective Cowley are without merit," Jarvis said. "Detective Cowley and his legal defense team are more than confident that he will be acquitted, as this case is nothing more than a witch hunt fueled by selfish political motivations."

A preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin Oct. 2.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com

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