Jury finds Routt County man not guilty in shooting south of Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Jury finds Routt County man not guilty in shooting south of Steamboat

A jury delivered three not guilty verdicts on Friday, Jan. 27, in the case of Colorado vs. William Bryce Scholle. 

Nearly one year after Scholle shot a man on his property, a jury’s decision made in Routt County court found Scholle not guilty on two felony charges — first-degree assault and menacing — and one misdemeanor — prohibited use of a firearm. 

Scholle’s defense attorneys stated that the last year of Scholle’s life “has been a nightmare” that began on Jan. 29, 2022.

“We are elated for Mr. Scholle. We felt like it was the right verdict all along and are glad the jury sought to vindicate his right to protect himself and his family,” said Jason Dunn, Scholle’s defense attorney from the Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck law firm in Denver.

An arrest affidavit filed in April detailed the scene that occurred the night of Jan. 29, 2022, where Scholle shot Christopher Cotton in the abdomen following a trespassing incident on Scholle’s property.

Witness testimony showed that Cotton, later found to be under the influence, got caught in snow behind Scholle’s unfinished home. Scholle denied the existence of the road Cotton took behind his home, but satellite imagery determined Cotton had driven on a temporary construction access road.


According to defense filings, Scholle’s wife contacted authorities while Scholle stood on his patio and demanded Cotton get on the ground. Cotton obliged, but got up because of the snow on the ground. He stated, “I’m not going to stay on the ground.” As he stood up, Scholle shot him.

14th Judicial District Attorney Matt Karzen said when it comes to the law of justified gun violence in the state, it is ultimately a question of whether the level of said violence is “reasonable” given the circumstances. 

“This case revealed the difference between the protocols of responsible gun ownership as taught in safety classes like the concealed carry class, and Colorado statutes addressing justified violence,” Karzen said. “Those two concepts are not the same thing, and they conflict on the question of how a person should behave with a gun.” 

Scholle originally aimed to utilize the “Make My Day” law, which grants defendants who use deadly force against home intruders immunity from prosecutions if certain conditions are satisfied. 14th Judicial District Chief Judge Michael O’Hara denied this after Scholle introduced new details into his original story about an exchange of punches as well as a claim that it looked as though Cotton went to reach for a weapon in his waistband during the altercation. 

In terms of utilizing “Make My Day,” the judge also took the Scholles’ description of Cotton at the event into consideration. The Scholles’ told the 911 operator that Cotton was “drunk, intoxicated, wasted, a crackhead, a mess.” The judge measured these comments against Cotton’s from that night, who reportedly said, “I am going to freeze to death,” “I am your neighbor,” and “I am not here to hurt you.” 

Scholle’s attorneys attribute his not guilty verdicts to the body camera footage obtained from responding officers that night.

“I think his own statements he made to the investigating officers, all of which were filmed and shown to the jury, allowed the jury to find this a justified case of self-defense,” Dunn said. 

Routt County rancher Bill Scholle, middle, received news of a not guilty verdict Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. Scholle fired one shot at a man accused of trespassing on his property in January 2022.
Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck/Courtesy photo

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