CHEYENNE – The murder trial of a Cheyenne man accused of fatally shooting another man after an argument over a mari-juana pipe began Monday in Laramie County District Court.
Charles “Charlie” Richmond, 78, was charged in the murder of John Paul “J.P.” Birgenheier after he allegedly shot Birgenheier three times with a shotgun after an argument Dec. 5 outside a Belaire Avenue home. Richmond is facing a sing- ular charge of first-degree murder.
The jury trial began with the state and defense’s opening statements, followed by the state’s witnesses. District Judge Catherine Rogers is presiding.
Richmond and Birgenheier had known each other for 12 years. They had gone hiking, rock hunting and stargazing together, Laramie County assistant district attorney Jeff O’Hol- leran said in his opening statement.
The two were living on the same property, he said. Richmond was renting a basement room in a house, and Birgenheier was living in a camper on the property.
The two men had gotten into an argument earlier that day, and Birgenheier allegedly attacked Richmond and threatened to “wipe him out.” After the fight, O’Holleran said, Richmond calmly exited the front door of his house, went to Birgenheier’s camper and shot him, before calmly walking back into his house.
Richmond had time to think and plan the murder after the two had argued, O’Holleran said.
“(Richmond left) J.P. to bleed to death in the arms of his wife, who rushed out of the camper when she heard gunfire,” O’Holleran said.
Chad Morgan, a neighbor who was driving home the afternoon of the shooting, heard the gunshots that killed Birgenheier and called 911.
As Morgan was turning the corner, he saw Richmond calmly walking from his house toward the camper on the property. At the time, he said he didn’t think anything of it, but when he heard gunshots moments later, he was surprised.
Morgan said he backed up his car and saw Birgenheier’s wife holding Birgenheier’s body, crying for help, and Richmond calmly walking away with the shotgun.
After Morgan called 911, Cheyenne Police arrived on scene and arrested Richmond. In the back of arresting Officer Michael Webster’s car, Richmond started mumbling and telling Webster about the shooting, according to trial evidence.
“I was just so goddamn mad I couldn’t see straight. Nobody comes into my house and beats me up,” Richmond said in the patrol vehicle video. “I suppose I should have called the cops.”
In the video, Richmond continued to talk about how mad he was, how he was upset Birgenheier beat him up, how Birgenheier would steal from him and threatened him.
Birgenheier was a deeply flawed man, O’Holleran said, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was murdered.
The state is alleging that Richmond killed Birgenheier out of revenge, not self-defense. But in defense attorney Brian Quinn’s opening statements, he said that’s not the case.
“He shot him to protect his own life,” Quinn said. “A man he’d known for years, a man he brought into his home, a man he’d taken under his wing, a man he’d provided food for – Charlie did all of this.”
But as O’Holleran said, Birgenheier was a deeply troubled man, Quinn said. At the time of his death, Birgenheier had methamphetamine coursing through his veins.
“If you look at Charles Richmond, you can see he’s not a fighter at all. He’s almost 80 years old,” Quinn said.
Birgenheier, on the other hand, was a much bigger man, he said, and was over 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. When a man as big as Birgenheier charged at Richmond, it made him fear for his life, he said, and Richmond shot him in self-defense.
Richmond was going to tell Birgenheier to get off the property and brought his shotgun for protection, not to shoot Birgenheier, Quinn said. Richmond yelled at Birgenheier to leave and not come back.
“(Birgenheier) charged at Charlie like a grizzly bear charging out of the woods,” Quinn said. “Charlie, with J.P. charging at him only six feet away, fires at him.”
Not knowing if the threat is neutralized after the first shot, Richmond shot Birgenheier twice more. It was the third shot, which hit Birgenheier in the scrotum, that was fatal for Birgenheier.
“The state refuses to believe that Charlie did this out of self-defense,” Quinn said. “Instead, they want to convict him of something he didn’t do.”
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. today.