Jurors to hear self-defense contention in murder trial

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- During a trial to start Monday, jurors likely will hear that John Wesley Towner Jr. shot a father and adult son in self defense at a central Topeka home on Jan. 23, 2018.

Towner is charged with felony first-degree murder in the death of John Edward Austin Jr., 34, or an alternative charge of intentional second-degree murder; attempted second-degree murder in the shooting of John Edward Austin Sr., 57; attempted aggravated robbery of the older Austin; and felony criminal possession of a firearm linked to a 2014 conviction for firearm possession.

During a hearing in June, Towner was seeking immunity from being prosecuted in the shootings of the Austins. Towner contended he acted in self defense when he shot the two men outside the Austin home in the 2000 block of S. Kansas Avenue.

During a hearing in June, Towner took the witness stand to testify that a man armed with a firearm was charging him when Towner pulled his pistol, shot the gunman, then shot the gunman’s armed father.

Towner appeared before Shawnee County District Court Judge Cheryl Rios on Wednesday during a motion hearing.

The question surfaced whether the defense could broach the topic of whether the Austins were under the influence of drugs on the day of the shootings.

The judge ruled that the defense could talk about the strong odor of marijuana at the Austin home. If there is evidence that the younger Austin was using methamphetamine on the day of the shootings, it can be presented as evidence, the judge said.

Evidence of past meth use isn't relevant, the judge said, but it is relevant if the meth was used on the day of the incidents. There is no evidence meth was used that day, the judge said.

Defense attorney Jennifer Chaffee then sought a continuance of the murder trial to learn whether the younger Austin was using meth on the day of the shootings. The judge twice denied Chaffee's motion to postpone the trial.

Towner remains in Shawnee County Jail in lieu of bond.
In June, Towner testified he and a man he knew only as Joe went to the Austin home, where Joe knocked on the door.

The older Austin answered the door, was “aggressive, disrespectful and insulting” to Joe, then punched Joe, and the two landed in the yard and sidewalk, Towner said. Towner said he saw the younger Austin charging at him and pulling a firearm.

“I took one step back and drew my gun,” Towner said, and fired a shot that missed the younger Austin. Towner fired two more shots, and the younger Austin fell inside the screen door.

The older Austin looked back and tried to reach for his gun, Towner said. Towner then shot the older Austin once.