The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a man who shot a Simpson County Sheriff’s Office detective attempting to serve an arrest warrant.
Ben J. Wyatt, 32, is serving a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted of first-degree assault by an Allen Circuit Court jury.
Wyatt shot Detective Eddie Lawson on March 10, 2016, when the detective went to Wyatt’s home to serve an arrest warrant against him for failing to appear for a prior court date.
Lawson, who suffered a broken leg and wounds to his right hip and left foot, missed work for a year while recuperating.
Wyatt, who was wounded in the arm during the incident when the detective returned fire, was apprehended by police in a field near his home.
Wyatt appealed his conviction on the basis that Allen Circuit Judge Janet Crocker did not instruct the jury to consider whether Wyatt acted under extreme emotional disturbance, which would have resulted in a lesser sentence.
In an opinion issued Thursday, the state Supreme Court said Crocker acted properly in not giving the jury instruction, saying the evidence of extreme emotional disturbance presented at trial was not sufficient to merit the instruction.
At the trial, which was moved to Allen County because of pretrial publicity, Wyatt testified that he felt he had been harassed by authorities prior to the incident with Lawson, describing a series of negative encounters he and his girlfriend had over the previous four years with Simpson County deputies, Kentucky State Police and the Department for Community Based Services.
Lawson was present at one encounter at the sheriff’s office, and Wyatt claimed to have observed Lawson speak to his girlfriend during an investigation, but the detective testified that he had no interactions with Wyatt until the shooting.
Wyatt testified that he feared for his life as a result of those encounters.
Dr. Eric Drogin, a forensic psychologist, testified at the 2018 trial that the assault could be explained based on Wyatt’s subjective response to Lawson’s arrival to serve the warrant and the cumulative experience of previous law enforcement interactions.
The state Supreme Court, though, determined that the events described at trial were not enough to persuade a jury that Wyatt acted under extreme emotional disturbance.
“A reasonable jury could not conclude that a law enforcement officer’s use of pepper spray and drawing his weapon to restrain an arrestee constitute an adequate provocation to cause an extreme emotional, inflamed state of mind,” the state Supreme Court said in its ruling. “Such techniques are commonly known by the public as measures available to officers and used as needed when dealing with a non-cooperative, threatening, armed person upon whom an arrest warrant is being served.”
The state Supreme Court also said the series of events described by Wyatt did not add up to a sufficient argument for an extreme emotional disturbance defense.
“Although Wyatt views harassment as a common thread across the described events, and undoubtedly negative emotions would have been stirred by the events as described, there is no evidence tying all these events together,” the Supreme Court said. “Some of them did not even directly involve Wyatt or law enforcement.”