North Carolina grand jury indicts officer for voluntary manslaughter for killing schizophrenic teen

February 4, 2015

Good news from North Carolina: A grand jury has indicted Officer Bryon Vassey for voluntary manslaughter. He is the officer who allegedly said, “We don’t have time for this,” before shooting and killing a schizophrenic teenager who had been subdued by two officers.

Think Progress has the story,

Officer Bryon Vassey was one of three officers from different North Carolina precincts to respond to a call by the family of 18-year-old Keith Vidal last month. The teen, who suffered from schizophrenia and weighed just 90 pounds, had apparently picked up a small screwdriver and wasn’t putting it down. But his parents say the two other officers already had the scene under control when Vassey walked in. They say the third officer simply tased Vidal, then took out a firearm and shot him dead, saying “we don’t have time for this.”

Records show Vassey was at the Vidal residence for just 70 seconds before calling in that shots had been fired, reports the North Carolina Star News.

The two officers who had subdued Vidal before Vasey arrived were cleared of wrongdoing by the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation.

I wrote about the incident here.

In the Boiling Spring Lakes case, there were three different officers at the scene. The first two didn’t open fire, but Vassey did. His lawyer, W. James Payne told CNN that Keith Vidal attempted to stab one of the officers multiple times with a screwdriver, but the officer was wearing a bulletproof vest, did not request assistance and was not injured.

Vidal’s stepfather, Mark Wilsey, who witnessed the shooting with Vidal’s mother, told CNN that the detective disrupted the situation,

“(He) walks in the room, walks around the corner, (and) says, ‘We don’t have time for this. Tase that kid now. Let’s get him out of here.'”

At a protest following the shooting, Keith’s mother warned,

“My word that I want to get out to every family who has a mentally ill patient: Do not call the police department for help,” Vidal’s mother told reporters. “Because your son will probably get shot and killed, just like mine did. Think twice about who you call for help.

Vassey has to post a $50,000 bond by today or surrender himself at the county jail.

I was really beginning to wonder if a grand jury would ever indict a cop. This indictment gives me some hope.

In other good news, a week before Christmas a jury in Missoula, MT rejected Markus Kaarma’s claim of self-defense, based on Montana’s stand-your-ground statute, and convicted him of deliberate homicide for the shotgun killing of a 17-year-old German foreign exchange student named Diren Dede. After an unsolved burglary, Kaarma installed some motion sensors in his garage and set a trap by leaving the door open with his wife’s purse in plain view. When Dede set off the sensor, Karma entered the garage and fired his pump shotgun four times, killing Dede.

Kaarma, whose case is similar to the Byron David Smith case in Minnesota (he also was convicted), will be sentenced on February 11th.

These three cases provide a basis for guarded optimism. I use the word ‘guarded’ because the victims in the three cases were white and I am not convinced the results would have been the same, if they had been black.


Oscar Pistorius: The four legal rules that determine his legal responsibilities

October 15, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Good evening:

I do not agree with Judge Masipa’s reasoning and I write to clear up confusion.

There are four legal rules involved in determining Oscar Pistorius’s legal responsibility for Reeva Steenkamp’s death.

1) Dolus eventualis;
2) Transferred intent;
3) Presumption of innocence; and
4) Self-Defense.

Dolus eventualis basically means that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of their acts because they are reasonably foreseeable.

Death was a natural and probable consequence to anyone, regardless of their identity, who was behind the wooden door in a confined area with nowhere to hide like the toilet cubicle in Oscar Pistorius’s house, when he fired 4 shots at point blank range with a 9 mm semiautomatic loaded with Black Talon ammunition through the door. For that reason, that consequence should have been reasonably foreseeable to Pistorius when he fired the shots.

Transferred intent means that, even if Pistorius did not intend to kill Reeva and he believed an intruder was behind the door when he fired the shots, his intent to kill the intruder transfers by operation of law to intent to kill her.

The presumption of innocence means that a person cannot be convicted solely on the basis of a presumption that he intended to kill the person behind the door. There must be actual evidence that he intended to kill.

Here, there is circumstantial evidence that he intended to kill based on the type of ammunition used, the number of shots, their spacing and trajectory, and finally the distance from which the shots were fired.

Finally, self-defense can be ruled out because the person behind the door did not threaten to kill Pistorius and did not attempt to open the door and attack him. Therefore, he was not in imminent danger of death or serious injury when he fired the shots. His use of deadly force was not reasonably necessary.

Therefore, whether he actually intended to kill Reeva is not relevant to the issue of guilt, although it may be a relevant consideration at sentencing.

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Jury selection will be the most important part of the Michael Dunn retrial

September 16, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Good afternoon:

Jury selection will be the most important part of the Michael Dunn retrial, which is scheduled to start next Monday. To have any chance to convict Michael Dunn of murdering Jordan Davis, the prosecution must screen for, identify and exclude any prospective juror who believes that it’s reasonable to assume that:

(1) a black 16 to 21-year-old male who likes to listen to loud rap music is an angry thug;

(2) a black 16 to 21-year-old male who lips off at an adult white male who orders him to turn down the volume is an angry thug;

(3) a black 16 to 21-year-old male who cranks up the volume after being ordered to turn it down is an angry thug;

(4) it’s reasonable for an adult white male to assume that an angry black thug who confronts him is armed and intends to kill or seriously hurt him; and

(5) it’s reasonably necessary for an adult white male to use deadly force in self-defense to prevent an angry black thug from killing or seriously injuring him.

The best way to determine if any prospective jurors hold these views is to ask them a series of hypothetical questions to discover if they fear black 16 to 21-year-old males.

For example, if you were walking down a sidewalk by yourself and saw a black 16 to 21-year-old male walking toward you, would you,

(a) continue walking toward him and ignore him;

(b) continue walking toward him and greet him;

(c) cross the street and walk down the other side; or

(d) turn around and walk the other way?

The use of hypothetical questions is the best way to uncover racial prejudice.

Can you think of any other hypothetical questions that you might ask during voir dire?

Finally, if you were a prosecutor, would you rather try this case to a judge according to the procedure followed in South Africa?

Would your answer change, if you were defense counsel?

The most important disputed questions of fact in the case are whether Jordan Davis was armed or had something that looked like a weapon in his hands, and if he was attempting to get out of the back seat of the SUV when Dunn squeezed off multiple shots at him.

FYI: Judge Healey denied a defense motion for a change of venue, preferring to take a wait-and-see approach to see if the extensive publicity about the shooting and the first trial has made it impossible to seat a twelve-person jury that can fairly and impartially decide the case (i.e., jurors have already formed an opinion about what the outcome should be). Once chosen, the jury will be sequestered.

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Should we tolerate shooting through locked doors in self-defense

August 1, 2014

Friday, August 1, 2014

Good morning:

With the Theodore Wafer trial on hold until Monday at 9:00 am, we return our attention to Oscar Pistorius.

You Magazine is reporting that he sold his house for R4.5 million ($420,000) to pay his escalating legal bills. The buyer is Louwtjie Louwrens, a Boksburg mining consultant who plans to rent it out.

Prosecution and defense have submitted their written closing arguments and Judge Thokozile Masipa has set aside Thursday and Friday next week for their oral summations.

We are fortunate to have the opportunity to witness a conjunction of two media intensive criminal cases that present the same issue:

Whether a person can justifiably kill another person in self-defense when that other person is on the other side of a locked door.

In the Pistorius case, the other person was his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius claims that he mistook her for an intruder after he was awakened by the sound of the bathroom window opening and the door to the toilet cubicle closing.

In the Wafer case, the other person was Renisha McBride, an intoxicated 19-year-old girl who had crashed her car into a parked car about 1 mile from Wafer’s house and walked away from the scene of the accident dazed and bleeding approximately 3 hours earlier. Wafer was awakened by McBride banging on his door. He unlocked and opened his inner front door and fired his shotgun through his locked outer screen door. Wafer first claimed that the gun fired accidentally and later switched to self-defense.

Neither Pistorius nor Wafer said anything to the person on the other side of the door before shooting.

In the Pistorius case, the prosecution claims Pistorius killed Steenkamp in a rage after she locked herself in the toilet cubicle to get away from him during an argument. Then he lied about it to escape responsibility for killing her.

The law of self-defense is similar in both cases. A person may justifiably use deadly force in self-defense, if they reasonably believe they are in imminent danger of death or serious injury.

The word “reasonable” in both cases refers to whether a reasonable person in the same situation as the shooter would have believed he was in imminent danger of death or serious injury.

In both cases, a locked door separated the victim from the shooter. The situation differs in that the victim in the Pistorius shooting could unlock the door whereas the victim in the Wafer shooting could not.

Both victims were unarmed.

Race is a probable factor in the Wafer case. He is white and she was black. Many people believe, myself included, that he would not have feared imminent death or serious injury, if she had been white.

South Africa does not have jury trials. Judge Thokozile Masipa will decide the case assisted by her two assessors who can overrule her verdict, if they disagree with her conclusion.

The 12-person jury will decide whether Wafer is guilty or not guilty.

Join us in the comments below and let us know whether you believe we should tolerate shooting through locked doors in self-defense.

This is our 1162nd post.

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Thanks,

Fred


Tuesday Evening Open Discussion: Comparison of Wafer to Pistorius

July 22, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Good evening:

Welcome to the Tuesday Evening Open Discussion where off topic is on topic.

A jury of 12 with two alternates has been selected in the #TheodoreWafer porch-shooting case. Two black females, two black males, one Arab male, two minority females, three white females and four white males. Don’t know anything else about them because jury selection was not televised or live streamed.

I am frustrated by the decision not to broadcast jury selection because that is where most trials are won or lost.

Opening statements will commence at 10 9 am EDT tomorrow. They will be livestreamed as will the rest of the trial.

Many people have compared this case to the Zimmerman case, but I believe it more closely resembles the #OscarPistorius case because the defendants in both cases are claiming self-defense after shooting through locked doors at people whom they say they believed to be an intruder (OP) or potential intruder (TW).

What do you think?

Anything else on your mind?

This is our 1149th post.

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Thanks,

Fred


Should Pistorius’s self-defense claim be judged by the reasonable person or a reasonable disabled-person standard

July 14, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

Good afternoon:

Should Oscar Pistorius’s self-defense claim be judged according to the reasonable-person standard or a reasonable disabled-person standard?

Depending on the jurisdiction, the self-defense test can be objective or both objective and subjective.

Objective test: Whether a reasonable person in the same situation (i.e., the external reality) would have perceived himself to be in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury?

Objective and Subjective Test: Whether a reasonable person, standing in the same shoes (i.e., knowing and perceiving what the defendant knew and perceived in that situation) would have perceived himself to be in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury?

Consider, for example, a battered wife who kills her battering husband while he is asleep fearing that he will kill or seriously injure her when he wakes up. A reasonable person probably would not have believed herself to be in imminent danger, whereas a battered wife might reasonably have believed she was in imminent danger.

Keep in mind that imminent danger does not require proof that the danger be immediate. Therefore, a battered wife’s belief that she was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury when her husband awakens probably would be reasonable, if he had seriously injured her in the past after he woke up.

Therefore, prior history between the shooter and the victim or the shooter’s belief about the victim’s intent based on knowledge of the victim’s reputation for committing acts of violence can be relevant to a shooter’s claim of self-defense.

Even when the test is both objective and subjective, the finder of fact (be it judge or jury) does not have to believe the defendant.

Three possible results exist in the Pistorius case:

(1) Guilty of murder;
(2) Guilty of manslaughter; or
(3) Not Guilty.

I think Pistorius wins or loses on the murder charge depending on whether Judge Masipa believes his claim that he thought he was shooting at an intruder.

She will convict him of murder, if she does not believe him. In other words, she will convict him, if she believes he knew Reeva Steenkamp was behind the door. The defense of self-defense does not apply in that situation.

If she believes his claim that he thought an intruder was in the toilet stall, then she has to decide whether he reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury when he fired four shots through the closed door. Her decision possibly could be affected by whether the law requires her to apply an objective test or an objective and subjective test.

For the following reasons, regardless of the test she applies, I believe she will decide that he was not in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm when he fired the gun.

He was an experienced and accurate shooter with the element of surprise on his side with his gun in hand, loaded with the most disabling ammunition available, aiming at the door with arm extended while standing far enough away from it to shoot and kill or disable the intruder, if the intruder opened the door.

By merely squeezing the trigger where he was standing, he could have killed or disabled the intruder before the intruder realized he was there.

He also had a cell phone with which to hold the intruder at bay in the stall behind the closed door while he summoned security guards and the police.

This situation does not change, regardless of his disability.

Nevertheless, I would find him guilty of manslaughter, rather than murder, because his decision to shoot prematurely through the door was a reckless or grossly negligent act.

This is our 1137th post.

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Thanks,

Fred


Retired police captain released on bond in theater-shooting case

July 12, 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Good morning:

To get you up and outta the door, here’s a vid by Widespread Panic covering Fire on the Mountain, a tune by the Grateful Dead:

Remember Curtis Reeves, 71, the former captain in the Tampa Police Department who shot and killed Chad Oulson, 43, in a movie theater during an argument that Reeves started while the previews were showing? Reeves objected to Oulson texting a message. Unpleasantries were exchanged. One thing led to another until Reeves ended the disagreement by shooting Oulson in the chest.

Oulson was unarmed.

Reeves obviously was armed and he is charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery. If convicted, he will be subject to a mandatory 25-year-minimum sentence.

He claims he fired in self-defense, even though he started the argument and was the aggressor. The entire confrontation was recorded on video.

Ironically, Reeves had just texted his son to inform him that he was at the theater before he confronted Oulson, who was texting his own daughter to communicate the same message to her when Reeves confronted him.

At his preliminary hearing, his attorneys unsuccessfully argued that Reeves believed his life was in imminent danger when Oulson threw popcorn in his face and threw his cell phone at him striking him in the face.

Oulson’s wife, who sustained a gunshot wound to her finger when she attempted to protect him from Reeves, denied that Oulson assaulted him.

Yes, this is another one of those cases where the victim would be alive today if Reeves had not been armed with a gun.

Oulson is survived by his wife and their young daughter.

Reeves was released yesterday on $150,000 bond after the Court of Appeal ordered the trial court to release him on bond or state a legally valid reason to deny him bond.

He has to surrender all of his firearms and must remain at home, unless he goes to church, the doctor’s office or the grocery store.

I believe the decision to release him on bond was appropriate and necessary under Florida law.

For more information, go here.

To ease the pain, here is Lisa Fischer.

This is our 1131st post. If you appreciate what we do, please toss some money into the hat. We need it to keep the lights on.

Thank you,

Fred


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