Homicide investigation determined to be self-defense, charges dropped

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) On May 22, 2020 at around 11 p.m., officers with the Cheyenne Police Department responded to The Lamp Lounge (101 West 6th St), regarding a male, later identified as Aaron Briggs, 36, of Cheyenne, who entered that location and was bleeding from his upper body. Briggs collapsed and was transported to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center for treatment. Briggs was declared deceased by attending medical staff on May 22, 2020 at around 11:45 p.m..

Between May 23, 2020 and May 27, 2020 detectives with the Cheyenne Police Department conducted multiple interviews with witnesses and examined multiple pieces of evidence collected as a result of two search warrants executed in Cheyenne and the autopsy of Briggs in Fort Collins, Colorado. Video was also reviewed from The Lamp Lounge and surrounding businesses. The investigation determined that earlier in the day of May 22, 2020, Briggs arrived at The Lariat Motel, room #7 under the influence of alcohol and became aggressive with Benjamin Ketcham, 31, of Cheyenne, and others present in the motel room. Ketcham was one of the current residents of the motel room.

Briggs was told to leave the motel room and ultimately did so. Later that evening, Briggs returned to The Lariat Motel, room #7 and began to threaten and intimidate Ketcham and others. Briggs was carrying a large metal chain he wore looped over both shoulders. Briggs was again told to leave the room and refused to do so. Ketcham, who was on the bed, stood up and pulled out his handgun and told Briggs to leave.

Briggs, upon seeing Ketcham holding the gun, removed the chain from his neck and swung it at Ketcham. As Briggs swung the chain at Ketcham, Ketcham raised the handgun and fired one shot, striking Briggs in the upper torso. Following the gunshot, Briggs ran to The Lamp Lounge. While Wyoming law provides for immunity for an individual who exercised reasonable force in self-defense, it is only available under certain, narrow, factual circumstances. After a thorough investigation and collaboration with the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office, a mutual decision was made to dismiss charges of 2nd Degree Murder against Benjamin Ketcham.

District Attorney for the First Judicial District of Wyoming, Leigh Anne Grant Manlove, issued the following statement regarding the dismissal of the single count of second-degree murder against Benjamin Ketcham (CR-2020-882).

“After a thorough briefing by detectives from the Cheyenne Police Department regarding their investigation, and an analysis of those facts under Wyoming law, I made the only decision I could, which was to dismiss Mr. Ketcham’s case,” Manlove said.

“Based on the information available on May 22, 2020, there was probable cause to believe that Mr. Ketcham committed the crime of second-degree murder,” Manlove said. “But as the investigation matured and the facts were fully developed, it became clear that under Wyoming’s reasonable defensive force law, Wyoming Statute § 6-6-602, Mr. Ketcham is immune from prosecution,” Manlove said.

“It is my hope that this information will not just inform, but help the public to understand that while Wyoming law provides for immunity for an individual who exercised reasonable force in self defense, it is only available under certain, narrow, factual circumstances,” Manlove said.

“Those facts were present in Mr. Ketcham’s case, but I have deep concerns that this dismissal will be misconstrued as a ‘get out of jail free card’ for anyone who wants to use lethal force for any reason,” she said. “It is not,” Manlove said.

“The charges against Benjamin Ketcham will be dismissed and he will be released from custody,” Manlove said. “Wyoming Statute § 6-6-602, although it is new, is very clear: it prohibits the prosecution of an individual who, under certain facts, was justified in the use of self-defense force,” Manlove said.

“In this discussion we have to remember, and be sensitive to the sad truth, that a man lost his life,” Manlove said. “Aaron Briggs was someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s friend, and they will always mourn his premature death,” Manlove said.