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Shaun Cowley's defense puts focus on shooting victim

Shaun Cowley's defense puts focus on shooting victim


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SALT LAKE CITY — "I'm sick. I need heroin."

Those words were allegedly spoken by Danielle Willard to a man she was buying drugs from just a couple of minutes before she was confronted by two West Valley police officers who shot and killed her in an apartment complex parking lot.

The man who allegedly sold her those drugs is the focus of a new motion filed in 3rd District Court Thursday. The defense team for ex-officer Shaun Cowley wants the man, known by the nickname "Felon," to be given immunity so he can freely talk about his interactions with Willard — something prosecutors don't want to do.

The new motion comes just days before a three-day preliminary hearing begins for Cowley, the former West Valley police detective who is charged with manslaughter, a second-degree felony, in Willard's death. The woman, 21, was shot 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.

During the hearing that starts Monday, Cowley's defense team wants to call David Gines to testify. Gines, who is currently in the Utah State Prison for unassociated crimes, is apparently the last person before police to see Willard alive. He is expected to testify that Willard bought $40 worth of heroin from him and had an "agitated appearance and condition," according to Cowley's motion.

But in order to get his full testimony, defense attorneys believe Gines needs to be given immunity. Otherwise, he may invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself of alleged drug crimes. Prosecutors aren't interested in making such an offer.

"The state's tactical maneuvering interferes with detective Cowley's constitutional rights," defense attorneys Lindsay Jarvis and Paul Cassell wrote in their motion. "By failing to grant use immunity for a crucial defense witness, the state is interfering with the search for truth."

The case

Both Cowley, 33, and West Valley police detective Kevin Salmon fired several shots at Willard as she backed her car out of a parking stall at the Lexington Park Apartments, 2293 W. Lexington Park Drive (3710 South). Cowley fired twice and Salmon four times. The district attorney's office determined that the first, and fatal shot, was fired by Cowley, striking Willard in the head.


Mr. Gines saw that Ms. Willard was in a highly agitated state and that she needed her heroin 'fix' quickly. A minute or two after this illegal drug transaction, Ms. Willard refused police commands to keep her car in place and instead, in desperation to get her heroin fix, accelerated her car directly towards detective Cowley, prompting him to fire his weapon in reasonable self-defense.

–Excerpt from defense motion


Cowley contends that Willard had quickly accelerated and turned her vehicle toward him and that he fired because he was in danger of being hit. Prosecutors, however, determined that Cowley fired from the side of Willard's vehicle and say his life was not in immediate danger.

Prosecutor Matthew Janzen has said the state plans to call 10 witnesses for the preliminary hearing, including accident reconstruction, firearms and trajectory experts, and a medical examiner. Jarvis said the defense plans to call an expert "that will basically rebut everything" the state offers. Plus, the defense says Cowley himself may testify.

Such a move would be highly unusual for preliminary hearings. Defendants seldom testify during such hearings and often don't even testify during their own trials.

During preliminary hearings, prosecutors try to present enough evidence to convince a judge that there is probable cause to believe the crimes occurred and were committed by the defendant. It's a low burden of proof and in most preliminary hearings, judges ultimately order the defendants to stand trial on their charges.

But Cowley's attorneys appear to be putting on a full press defense, hoping to convince the judge that the case shouldn't go to trial.

"At the upcoming preliminary hearing, detective Cowley intends to vigorously dispute the state’s case and to ask the court not to bind him over to face manslaughter charges," his attorneys wrote in court documents.

The defense also wants to call Gines to the witness stand.

David Gines

Gines, a white supremacist according to court documents, is expected to testify that he sold heroin to Willard on at least three occasions. He will testify that he sold heroin to Willard inside her car in the parking lot, court records state.

"Mr. Gines saw that Ms. Willard was in a highly agitated state and that she needed her heroin 'fix' quickly," according to the defense motion. "A minute or two after this illegal drug transaction, Ms. Willard refused police commands to keep her car in place and instead, in desperation to get her heroin fix, accelerated her car directly towards detective Cowley, prompting him to fire his weapon in reasonable self-defense."

A shattered passenger side window and a bullet hole in the windshield are visible on one of two vehicles. West Valley Police officers investigate an officer involved shooting at the Lexington Park apartments near 3715 south and 2200 west Friday, Nov. 2, 2012. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
A shattered passenger side window and a bullet hole in the windshield are visible on one of two vehicles. West Valley Police officers investigate an officer involved shooting at the Lexington Park apartments near 3715 south and 2200 west Friday, Nov. 2, 2012. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

The defense argues that Gines' testimony is important to show that Willard's "frame of mind" and that she was not "acting normally."

Defense attorneys note that in a recent deposition hearing as part of a civil lawsuit against Cowley, Gines invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself and did not answer questions about selling heroin, according to court documents. Cowley's attorneys fear he will do this again if not granted immunity.

The defense believes the state is unfairly choosing whom it grants immunity to, noting that Salmon was already offered immunity by prosecutors for his testimony.

"The state has clearly discriminated in granting use immunity," defense attorneys wrote in their motion. "There can be no doubt that blatant discrimination has occurred."

Cowley's attorneys call Gines a "vital" defense witness since he was the last person to talk to Willard before her death.

"Without the ability to call Mr. Gines to (the) stand, detective Cowley will be severely prejudiced by his inability to establish her dangerous state of mind immediately before she accelerated her car towards him," court records state.

As part of their most recent motion, Cowley's defense attorneys included portions of West Valley police reports. One report includes testimony from a man who told investigators that Willard moved into a hotel with him about a week prior to the shooting. Willard told the man that she had allowed two other people to stay with her at her Murray apartment, and their influence caused her to relapse on heroin. Willard moved out of her apartment to "get away from these people" because they were a "bad influence on her," according to the report.

Another woman told police that Willard was fun to hang out with and described her as "energetic and friendly" until she relapsed to drug addiction, the report states. The woman said three weeks prior the shooting, Willard had changed and was "becoming an angry person who was quick to yell and snap."

A federal civil suit was also filed on behalf of Melissa Kennedy, Willard's mother, and the estate of Danielle Willard against West Valley City, Cowley, Salmon, former West Valley Police Chief Thayne "Buzz" Nielsen, and John Coyle.

Kennedy, who lives out of state, said she plans to attend next week's preliminary hearing as well as a weekend rally against police violence.

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Pat Reavy

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