Friday, June 22, 2018

Off Duty Security Guard found Not Guilty after 1.5 Years in Jail



On 16 November, 2016, an off duty security guard, Melvin Stephens, shot and killed a man who charged at him up a stairs at his apartment complex. The incident occurred in Austin, Texas. The two had been in a confrontation earlier. The man killed, Dedric Earl, had a scissors that was discovered at the scene. Stephens called 911 to report the shooting.

Stephens was arrested and jailed because of statements he made to police. Bail was set at $125,000. It was more than Stephens could raise or afford. He spent over one and a half years in jail, from November, 2016, to June, 2018. From mystatesman.com:

Defense lawyer asked for testing of bloody scissors found in area of shooting.

Stephens, 49, had no criminal history when he fatally shot Dedrick Earl in November 2016.

A man who fatally shot a man armed with scissors was acquitted of murder and got to go home Friday after a year and a half behind bars.

After deliberating for three hours Thursday, the Travis County jury weighing Melvin Stephens’ self-defense claim needed just 15 minutes Friday morning to return the not-guilty verdict.

“Really happy for Melvin,” his lawyer Robb Shepherd said. “He gets to go home to his family.”

The defense overcame a police interview shown on video to the jury in which Stephens, 49, told investigators he regretted shooting Dedrick Earl and that he “didn’t have to” do it. The two had been feuding at a North Austin apartment complex after Earl and another man vandalized Stephens’ Ford Taurus with ashes from a burned magazine.

But from the witness stand, Stephens testified that he had reconsidered the November 2016 incident and realized his life was in danger when Earl, 22, sprinted up a flight of steps as Stephens was retreating to his home.
The case illustrates the pitfalls of giving a statement to police. It may be helpful to point out evidence that might be missed, such as the scissors. But making a statement without the aid of counsel is a perilous endeavor.

The vast majority of U.S. citizens do not wish to take a life. In the immediate aftermath of a shooting, they may state, as did Stephens, that they regret it had happened, and they are sorry it did. Statements such as that can be used against a defender in the courts. They often are.

Telling the police that you wish to cooperate, but that you have been told not to give a statement until you have counsel, is appropriate. Melvin Stephens spent a year and a half in jail. It did not have to be that way.

The case shows the problem of the time lag from arrest to prosecution to a final verdict in a court of law. The incident would initially have been coded as a murder, because of the arrest. It is unlikely that the FBI statistics for 2016 will be changed, and flip from the murder column to the justified homicide column.

The Gun Violence Archives lists only incidents involving guns, and only incidents that can be verified by police and/or media reports. This biases the data base because it eliminates near all defensive gun uses, which are seldom reported or considered newsworthy.

The Archives includes suicides committed with a firearm as "gun violence".  Gun violence is a propaganda term because it focuses attention on the instrument instead of the perpetrator, assuming the instrument is the most important part of the incident. Cultural norms, the number of police, the perpetrator's criminal history, and several other variables are more important in predicting homicide, crime, and suicide than is the instrument used.

In spite of the inherent biases of the Gun Violence Archive,  when a jury finds that a shooter was justified, that should be characterized as a defensive gun use.

In the Stephens case, The Gun Violence Archives lists the incident as either murder, accident or suicide. They add in the notes that Melvin Stephens was ruled not guilty. But the shooting is not classified as a defensive gun use.  From the gunviolencearchivecenter.com:
Incident Characteristics 

Shot - Dead (murder, accidental, suicide)

Notes

1 killed. suspect init arrest, found not guilty of murder charge
Perhaps it is early, and the Archives will change the classification of the event.

©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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1 comment:

Paul Weber said...

While I don't know but few of the particulars of this case, the 15 minute jury decision speaks volumes. 18 months in jail, so much for the 6th Amendment right to a speedy trial. This has the appearance of "punishment by process."