Former federal judge joins Shaun Cowley’s defense team

Posted at 10:06 PM, Jul 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-29 08:39:55-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The former West Valley detective who shot and killed Danielle Willard almost two years ago is trying to get a manslaughter charge dismissed well before a trial begins.

Shaun Cowley appeared in court Monday for a routine scheduling appearance but this time he didn’t walk out alone -- several family members were by his side.

At times, Cowley was smiling.

"The reason for that is he's now been given the opportunity to respond to some of these allegations," said defense attorney Lindsay Jarvis.

Also, Cowley has a new legal heavyweight on his defense team, former federal judge turned University of Utah criminal law professor, Paul Cassell.

Cassell said he reviewed the same evidence the district attorney did in the Danielle Willard shooting and doesn't believe Cowley should've been charged with manslaughter.

"The more I looked at the facts of the case, the more I became convinced that a very good office has made a very bad mistake in the case," Cassell said.

"It's his opinion. It's an opinion I disagree with," responded Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

Gill said evidence shows Cowley fired the fatal shot that killed Willard from the side of her car and his life wasn't threatened.

Cowley's lawyers say the evidence will show the former detective was in the vehicle’s path and was threatened.

But the defense team fears their client can't get a fair trial, partially because of media publicity. In addition, "the internal affairs department in West Valley City collected information, which could not be used against the officer and yet that information was provided, in our view improperly, to the investigation team and as a result the entire prosecution is tainted," Cassell said.

"This was a process that was very thoroughly looked at. Look at Chief Russo from the West Valley Police Department who even said this is one of the most through investigations he's had in 30 years," Gill said.

Gill added he respects Cassell and has worked with him on various projects but stands by the decision to charge Cowley.

Gill would not address allegations that prosecutors improperly used Cowley's internal affairs testimony in the criminal case.

Gill said he expects the defense team to vigorously fight for their client, file what they feel is appropriate and let the courts decide.

Both sides are back in court Aug. 5.

Cowley’s lawyers want an evidentiary hearing, hoping to get the case thrown out before a preliminary hearing.

If they lose, defense attorney Lindsay Jarvis thinks Cowley will go on trial sometime next summer. If convicted of manslaughter, he could serve 1-15 years in prison.