Jury finds Rocky Ford man Justin Schneider guilty in wife's shooting death

Christian Burney
LA Junta Tribune
In this 2017 file photo from the La Junta Tribune Democrat, Justin and Wendy Schneider pose for a photo outside their paving business in Colorado.

An Otero County jury found Rocky Ford resident Justin Schneider guilty of negligent homicide of his wife, Wendy Schneider, on Friday after a weeklong trial overseen by Judge Michael Schiferl.

The trial had been pending for nearly a year due to social distancing and public health restrictions taken in light of COVID-19.

On Dec. 22, 2018, Justin and Wendy Schneider were holding a small family Christmas dinner. They had gifted their sons new firearms for Christmas and were in the process of examining them.

Kyle Schneider's new P320 appeared to be malfunctioning and so Wendy fetched her own to compare them in hopes of identifying the issue. They weren't having any luck.

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Son Kyle Schneider testified that Wendy's gun was loaded. Kyle said discussion ensued about the importance of keeping a firearm's chamber empty when the gun is not in use. Justin took the gun and was sitting in a chair at a table across from Wendy.

Kyle said his father was sitting calmly with his hand on the grip of the gun, not pointing it at anyone.

When Justin went to pass the gun to Wendy it reportedly went off. Wendy was struck by the fired bullet in the neck. Justin moved to aid Wendy while Kyle called 911.

A former Rocky Ford officer who was the first to arrive on scene and who testified during Justin Schneider's trial said that when he entered the Schneider home he found Justin straddling Wendy, who was lying face-up on the floor, attempting to stop her bleeding.

The responding officer observed firearms on the table Justin and Wendy had been situated at and checked them. He found the bullet casing on a window sill adjacent to where Justin had been sitting when the gun went off.

Several Rocky Ford police and volunteer firefighters testified at the trial, each giving their accounts of what they witnessed the evening of Dec. 22, 2018.

By their accounts Justin was cooperative. Wendy was placed onto a gurney and transported by ambulance to Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center in La Junta where she later died.

Justin attempted to ride with his wife to the hospital but was held back by Rocky Ford police for questioning, an officer testified. Justin wasn't placed under arrest that night because officers didn't believe they had probable cause to do so.

In their closing arguments, Justin Schneider's defense said that what happened to Wendy was a tragic accident and claimed that the gun that went off, also a P320 pistol, had potentially misfired. Upon forensic inspection of the firearm, shavings were found inside the chamber which indicated something could have been wrong with the gun's firing mechanism.

However, prosecutors argued that no actual defects had been found. They also made the case that the fact that the gun belonged to Justin and was already carrying a round in its chamber when it was pointed at Wendy and fired was due to negligence on Justin's behalf.

They argued that because firearms are inherently dangerous weapons, practice of basic gun safety is on the gun owner.

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The defense argued that "basics" of gun safety, never pointing a loaded or unloaded gun at someone that you don't intend to shoot, never keeping a round in the chamber when the gun isn't in use, and observing trigger safety by keeping your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot, isn't codified by law and thus Justin did nothing wrong.

Justin Schneider's sentencing hearing has been scheduled for May 10 at 1:30 p.m.

Negligent homicide is a Class 5 felony punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

Tribune-Democrat reporter Christian Burney can be reached by email at cburney@gannett.com.