JONESBORO — A Union County jury on Thursday convicted a man of first-degree murder after a booby-trapped shotgun killed another man on his rural property in 2018.
William Wasmund, of Chester, was convicted of both first-degree murder and aggravated battery for the 2018 death of Jeff Spicer of Murphysboro.
Wasmund was charged earlier this year. Testimony during the trial this week revealed that Spicer was found dead on Wasmund's property in the early morning hours of Sept. 16, 2018. He was lying dead next to his truck, and was found by a man who lived nearby.
The state contended that Wasmund rigged a shotgun to a rope connected to the door of a shed on his property that, when opened, would fire the gun at the person trying to enter the shed. He called it a “spring gun.” The defense contended that Wasmund did not set the gun, but had complained often of theft on the property and pointed to evidence to suggest Spicer was there to steal.
During closing arguments, Special Prosecutor Matt Goetten said for his work he relies often on Occam’s Razor, the concept that the simplest explanation is often the right one.
For this case, he said it did not matter so much why Wasmund set up the gun to fire, but that he did so, and it killed someone.
“That spring gun was the cause of death,” Goetten said Thursday.
Thomas Mansfield, Wasmund’s defense attorney, argued that Spicer’s actions are what caused his own death — ignoring the “no trespassing” sign, the nailed-shut shed door and the “caution do not enter" sign on the shed, then breaking the lock on the shed door.
“Those are the acts that caused his death,” Mansfield said.
A key part of Wasmund's defense was the question as to whether he even set the spring gun himself. A primary witness for the state was Roger Ellet, who said he was there the day it was set. Wasmund told him about it as he was loading things from the shed into his truck, Ellet testified. Ellet said he told many people about the trap and about his concerns. However, Mansfield tried his best to point out inconsistencies in Ellet’s testimony and the interview he gave to police in January.
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Was it reasonable? That was the question before the jury Thursday. The state argued that no, Wasmund’s construction of a spring gun set to fire when his shed door was opened was not reasonable.
Goetten pointed to multiple interviews played during the state’s case, in which Wasmund told authorities there was “nothing worth anyone’s life in there.” He told investigators that he “wouldn’t have shot a complete stranger over that crap.”
Mansfield said Wasmund was well within his rights. During a debate outside the presence of the jury, Judge Stephen Green asked both attorneys to argue why he should or should not allow an affirmative defense in the case — a defense that, to some degree, admits fault but says the action was justified. His primary concern was whether evidence was presented during trial that Wasmund had reasonable cause to use deadly force to protect his property, something that is allowed under the law.
Mansfield said yes, that the multiple accounts of Wasmund complaining about theft at his property and his previous attempts to prevent them, namely digging a hole in front of the door and affixing razor blades to the door, all of which Mansfield said had failed. However, he restated that all of this was irrelevant if the jury could believe Wasmund did not set the trap himself, something he worked to prove during testimony.
Ultimately, Judge Green allowed the defense to be used. However, he said he did not like having to make that decision. As a society, he said the use of these traps is not acceptable, but, he noted, he does not make the law, he upholds it.
Mansfield contended that, based on the tools found at the scene, and the very fact that the gun was triggered when the door to the shed was opened, that Spicer was on the property that night to commit burglary, a felony. This, he said, justified the use of force under Illinois law.
“There is no doubt that the law gives William Wasmund the right to use deadly force,” Mansfield said during closing arguments.
Goetten argued that because Wasmund was not on the property during the incident, the question of his decision to use deadly force was moot. He said someone had to be there to make that decision.
“The gun doesn’t act reasonably,” Gotten said. “The gun just acts.”
After the verdict was reached, family and friends of Spicer choked back sobs and gave hugs, clutching tissues.
Mansfield said he was shocked.
“I am extremely surprised by the verdict,” he told The Southern after leaving the court. “I don’t believe the jury followed the law,” he said.
Mansfield said the verdict will be appealed.
Wasmund is scheduled for a 9 a.m. Dec. 16 sentencing.
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