Routt County shooting case could hinge on Colorado’s ‘Make My Day’ law

Defense asks court to dismiss charges, while the prosecution objects

The prosecution and defense both agree that William Bryce Scholle shot an unarmed man at Scholle’s Routt County home in January.

However, Scholle claims the shooting was an act of self-defense, and on Sept. 16, his attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him of first degree assault and menacing, both felonies, and prohibited use of a weapon, a misdemeanor.

On Oct. 24, 14th Judicial District Attorney Matt Karzen filed a response in Routt County Court objecting to the defendant’s motion.

Between the defendant’s motion and the DA’s response, the documents paint two different pictures.

Both sides agree that Christopher Cotton, 29, was intoxicated when he drove up the gravel driveway of Scholle’s 144-acre property — about nine miles south of Steamboat Springs — around 8:20 p.m. Jan. 29. Cotton veered around the house, got stuck in the snow and exited the vehicle. Scholle’s wife and two daughters were inside the home, according to both accounts. 

Both accounts also say Scholle pointed a handgun at Cotton and instructed him to lay on the ground. After Cotton laid on the ground for a period of time, he stood up and Scholle shot him in the abdomen. After the shot was fired, Scholle returned inside and locked the sliding glass door to his house, emptied the magazine of his firearm and waited for Routt County sheriff’s deputies to arrive. 

Scholle’s legal representation from the Denver-based law firm Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck insists that their client was legally entitled to shoot Cotton under Colorado’s Force Against Intruders Defense, also known as the state’s “Make My Day” law.

However, the district attorney has objected to that argument, saying “the immunity provided by CRS 18-1-704.5 was not intended to justify the use of physical force against persons who enter a dwelling accidentally or in good faith, nor ‘to encourage arbitrary, casual killings.’”

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The district attorney argues that Cotton, who survived being shot, trespassed on the property unknowingly and without intending to cause harm. 

Scholle’s legal defense insists that Cotton yelled at Scholle and refused to return to his vehicle, and even moved toward the residence while flailing his arms. Cotton was shot in the outdoor patio area attached to the rear of the house. 

Still, the district attorney says that Cotton was never told to return to his car, as Scholle immediately pointed the handgun and ordered Cotton to remain outside. The prosecution also believes that Scholle told Cotton he would shoot him if he did not move to the outdoor patio area where he was eventually shot. 

How Cotton found himself within the patio space could be an important element to the case, as the Colorado’s Force Against Intruders applies when a person makes an unlawful entry into the defendant’s dwelling, so trespassing onto a person’s yard by itself would not entitle a homeowner to shoot the intruder. However, a patio is considered a part of a dwelling, according to Colorado law.

The district attorney also argues that Cotton never spoke in an aggressive or threatening way to Scholle or anyone else in the residence. The DA’s response claims that Cotton never brandished any weapon and tried to explain his presence while assuring Scholle he intended no harm.

The competing accounts of how Cotton stood to his feet just before being shot also differ. 

“Without warning, Cotton yelled, ‘I’m not going to stay on the ground,’ rose and lunged at Mr. Scholle,” the defense attorneys wrote in their motion to dismiss the charges.

But again, the district attorney describes it differently.

“Mr. Cotton was freezing cold in the single-digit/sub-zero temperatures while lying on the ground, where the defendant ordered him to lay, outside the defendant’s home, and he told the defendant this approximately 90 seconds before he stood up and the defendant shot him,” the DA wrote in his response.

The defense attorneys claim that Scholle purposefully aimed for Cotton’s mid-section “so as to stop but not kill him.” 

The prosecution, however, notes that Scholle never checked Cotton for a weapon nor did Scholle attempt to render aid after shooting him. 

Both sides will present evidence to the court to support their version of the incident. 

A motion hearing is set for Nov. 15, while a pretrial readiness conference is scheduled for Dec. 8 and dates for a potential jury trial have been set for late January.

Efforts to reach Karzen for comment on Tuesday, Nov. 1, were unsuccessful.

The attorneys at Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck stated that everything they are willing to share is included in their motion and what will be said in court on Nov. 15.

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