Monday, March 26, 2018

MO: Defender with Knife Not Guilty of Murder

On November 29 of 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri, Terrell McDaniel, 36, was attacked by Robert Collins, 44. Collins was intoxicated and attacked McDaniel with a milk crate. During the affray, McDaniels defended himself with a knife, stabbing Collins numerous times. Collins died at the scene.  From
According to his lawyer, Joe Whitener, McDaniel told the jury he feared for his life during a street fight. Collins was intoxicated and belligerent when he asked McDaniel for drugs, and McDaniel refused. Collins then tried to attack McDaniel with a Prairie Farms milk crate, Whitener said, and McDaniel stabbed Collins several times, including in the heart.

"He was afraid and he feared that he was going to be beat up very badly," Whitener said.

Missouri's self-defense law, expanded in 2016, says a person has a right to defend one's self against an attack without a duty to retreat if someone "reasonably" perceives threat of deadly force.

That was the argument Whitener said he made to the jury.

"The jury saw that what Terrell did was reasonable and that he was defending himself," he said. "Robert started the fight, and Terrell did what he had to do to survive."

McDaniel was on probation for drug possession charges at the time of the killing.
One of the reasons McDaniel was charged with murder was that he fled the scene of the fight. Many people take fleeing the scene as an admission of guilt. People who are on probation or who have other reasons to avoid contact with law enforcement officers, often flee the scene because they fear the consequences. They may not believe they can get a fair trial.

This case shows that juries can look at the facts and find someone on probation not guilty of murder.

The number of stab wounds is not unusual. Fights are fast moving, dynamic situations. It only takes a second to inflict multiple stab wounds. Anyone who understands the dynamics of fighting with a knife knows this.  When someone is fighting for their life, they do not pause to see if a particular thrust has been effective or not. Numerous thrusts, blocks, feints, and other motion all happen extremely rapidly.

We do not know the relative size of the combatants in this case. A smaller man can reasonable be expected to resort to a weapon if attacked by a larger opponent. 

The reasonable person doctrine is used when evaluating self defense claims.  the jury is instructed to determine if a reasonable person, in the situation the defendant found themselves, knowing what they knew at the time, have made the decisions that were made.

Three factors are commonly looked for.

One - Would a reasonable person believe the attacker had the ability to kill or severely injure them?

Two - Would a reasonable person believe the attacker had the opportunity to use the ability to kill or severely injure them?

Three - Would a reasonable person believe the attacker was intent on putting them in jeopardy by using the opportunity and ability to kill or severely injure them?

As the fight was ongoing before the knife was pulled, the most relevant question was number one. The jury would have access to information that we do not, such as the relative sizes of the two men, the history of Collins known to McDaniels, and the specific nature of the attack.

The jury, in this case, found McDanials not guilty.

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

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