Man sentenced to 14 years in fatal shooting, wounding of two men

John Towner was arrested on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, in connection with the shooting of John Austin Sr., 57, and his son John Austin Jr., 34 (Source: Shawnee Co. Sheriff's Office)
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A judge on Thursday imposed the maximum sentence available on a gunman convicted of killing one man and wounding that man's father.

The two sentences John Wesley Towner Jr. received total 14 years. Towner is 30-years-old.

Shawnee County District Court Judge Cheryl Rios rejected a defense request that would have reduced Towner's sentence by nearly four years.

Rios told Towner she was "not compelled" by Towner's apologies for shooting John Austin Jr., 34, and his father, John Austin Sr., 57.

Rios told Towner she didn't believe his version of the shootings of the Austins on Jan. 23, 2018.

"You took a weapon to someone's home to (shoot) two unarmed people," Rios said. "You killed two unarmed people."

Rios sentenced Towner to 107 months for voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of the younger Austin Jr., and 61 months for attempted second-degree murder in the wounding of John Austin Sr.

That totals 14 years.

Towner was supposed to be sentenced last Friday. However, the hearing was cut short when he collapsed while walking toward the witness box to give a statement. He complained he couldn't breathe, and was taken from the courtroom on a stretcher.

Towner originally was charged with alternative counts of felony first-degree murder and intentional second-degree murder, both in the death of the younger Austin; attempted second-degree murder of the older Austin; attempted aggravated robbery, and criminal possession of a firearm.

If Towner earned all the good time credit eligible to him, he would serve just under 12 years.

The judge also ordered Towner to pay $5,000 to the Crime Victims Compensation Board and $3,500 for his appointed attorney.

After Towner completes his prison sentence, he must register as a violent offender for 15 years, the judge told him.

Late on Jan. 18, a Shawnee Co. District Court jury worked past the normal court hours in reaching their decision to convict Towner. The jury acquitted Towner of attempted aggravated robbery, and the firearm possession charge was dismissed in state court.

Before Towner was sentenced, he testified he "cooperated completely" with police investigating the shootings of the Austins, but he didn't identify a second man who was with him at the Austin home during the shootings.

Towner also faces a federal charge of one count of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person on the date the Austins were shot, according to a federal indictment. No hearing dates have been scheduled for the federal indictment.

During the trial, the older Austin took the witness stand, telling jurors he was at home around noon that day when two men knocked on the door, asked to use the bathroom, then tried to force their way inside the house at 2000 block of S. Kansas Avenue.

The older Austin said he struggled to block them from entering in order to protect his son and himself from the two men.

Topeka police said no firearms were found in the Austin home.

On the last day of the trial, Towner told jurors he was acting in self defense when he shot the Austins.

Towner said he started to leave the house when he saw the younger Austin coming at him, thought the younger Austin was reaching for a weapon, and Towner fired three shots. The younger Austin, who suffered wounds in the chest and left arm, died on Feb. 19, 2018.

Towner said he thought the older Austin was reaching for a weapon and shot him once.

In June 2018, Towner filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss charges in the case, alleging he shot the Austins in self defense. Rios denied Towner's motion to dismiss the case against Towner.