Lawrence Branch
Lawrence Branch (San Juan County Adult Detention Center)
AZTEC — A Kirtland man was found guilty of shooting his adoptive son in the leg and he is facing up to seven years in prison when he is sentenced Wednesday morning.

Lawrence Branch, 56, was convicted of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, negligent use of a firearm and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after a two-day trial at the Aztec district courthouse on May 30 and 31 with District Judge William Birdsall presiding.

Branch shot Joshua Branch, 32, in the leg outside Lawrence Branch's trailer on County Road 6255 on May 7, 2012. The father and son said they were arguing about how to take care of a swamp cooler and other old items on Branch's property.

Lawrence Branch unsuccessfully argued in court that he shot his son in self defense. He said he was afraid for his life because of Joshua Branch's military experience.

Joshua Branch reportedly suffers from post traumatic stress disorder because of experiences he had while serving in recent wars for the U.S. Marine Corps, according to court testimony.

"Joshua (Branch) is a potential killer. He's seen action in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Marines trained him to kill. He isn't just anybody," Brad Kerwin, Lawrence Branch's attorney, said during the trial. "Lawrence (Branch) was justified in shooting this man in the leg."

More than a year after the shooting, Joshua Branch still walks with crutches. He said he has five surgeries and bone and skin grafts and has permanent problems with his leg because of the injury.

Joshua Branch served four years in the Marines before he was discharged because of a disability. He moved onto a trailer near his parent's trailer in Kirtland and was taking classes at San Juan College the day he was shot.

He had just finished a final when he returned home and started arguing with Lawrence Branch.

The two men cursed at each other and Joshua Branch told his father to "get your gun or call the law," according to courtroom testimony.

Lawrence Branch entered the home and grabbed a .44 caliber revolver and walked back to the doorway.

Lawrence and Joshua Branch disputed what happened in the seconds prior to the shooting.

Joshua Branch said he was getting ready to leave the area and go to lunch with his girlfriend.

Lawrence Branch said Joshua Branch had a crazed look in his eye and appeared ready to attack.

"I was scared. I knew what he was capable of. I knew he had been in a bunch of fights at school. He informed me when he was in the Marines he got in a fight with a sergeant. He told the sergeant had to go to the hospital," Lawrence Branch said. "He's a violent kid. He has PTSD. He uses a lot of drugs as far as abusing his pain medication and when he gets violent he's uncontrollable."

Kerwin argued that crime-scene photos collected by San Juan County Sheriff's Office deputies were lost prior to trial. He said the photos would have shown blood-spatter evidence that could have proved Joshua Branch was coming toward his father when he was shot.

"As Joshua is about to bound up the porch and through the door, Lawrence wings him, in the leg, to stop him," he said.

Assistant District Attorney Ken Stalter said Joshua Branch's military service indicates he would have more control than the average person.

"Joshua had never hit Lawrence before. There was no history of violence between the two," Stalter said. "Even if it happened like Lawrence Branch said it happened, he's bringing a handgun to a fistfight."

Ryan Boetel covers crime and San Juan County for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him @rboetel on Twitter.