On Friday, January 27th, 2023, a jury acquitted William Bryce Scholle of multiple charges stemming from a shooting on his property a year earlier.
William confronted a drunk intruder on his property on the night of January 29th, 2022. The intruder was a man named Christopher Cotton. Cotton was caught trespassing after dark on Scholle’s property. According to Scholle, he held Cotton at gunpoint while waiting for Routt County Sheriff’s to respond to his wife’s 911 call.
At some point Cotton refused to stay on the ground and when he got up, Scholle shot him once in the abdomen. Cotton eventually survived. Scholle was charged with two felonies — first-degree assault and menacing, and one misdemeanor, prohibited use of a firearm.
Originally Scholle tried to use the Defense Against Intruder law to defend his actions. This defense ended up being rejected by the presiding judge as the shooting did not take place within the dwelling.
The judge also determined that Cotton had not made an unlawful entry into the dwelling. The court determined that “dwelling” and “premises” are two separate things, and after considering numerous other court cases, the judge concluded that the concrete patio where Cotton was shot shouldn’t be defined as a part of the dwelling.
This was not the only issue with Scholle’s invocation of the Defense Against Intruder law, but it was an insurmountable problem for Scholle.
Scholle also made inconsistent statements about the events of that night. Without video evidence, the prosecutor and ultimately the jury are left to decide who the credible parties are. Scholle originally said that he shot Cotton after Cotton stood up from the prone position. 10 months later, Scholle stated that he now recalled that Cotton and he exchanged punches before Scholle fired. Prosecutors did attack Scholle’s credibility based on this change of story, as well they should if they are any good at their job. This is exactly why it’s so important to get an attorney involved immediately when involved in a self defense incident. A competent attorney would have helped Scholle gather all of his thoughts as well as evidence before providing a statement to detectives. This isn’t because Scholle was guilty, but his job after protecting his family is to protect his affirmative defense.
Eventually, a jury was left to decide whether or not Scholle’s actions were “reasonable” in defense of his life and the life of his family. The jury did acquit Scholle of all charges. However the path to a conviction is much easier when the jury is left to decide the case under the Defense of A Person statute, especially when dealing with an unarmed attacker and a Defendant who has admittedly changed his story.
William Scholle did hire an attorney but from all appearances, this was not done immediately and almost certainly at extremely high expense. I’m sure Scholle counts the cost of the attorneys as “worth it” to keep him out of prison. But I’m also sure that it was a very painful experience.
Once again this is why we recommend Firearms Legal Protection, in part so that you will not hesitate to call an attorney right away after you have defended yourself. William Scholle was protecting himself, his wife and his children. But without a plan for the aftermath, William created problems for his case that cost him a year of his life, an expensive legal defense and the stress of leaving his future up to a jury of his peers.