Self defense is always a tough thing to determine. Most of the time, only the people directly involved truly know what happen. On top of that, how far can self defense go? If you get into a fist fight and someone stabs you, were they acting in self defense? Technically they would be defending themselves. That’s why self defense cases are often so controversial. There is a certain subjectivity that comes with self defense, especially if there are no witnesses to corroborate a story.
This is especially true when the cases are widely publicized. The court of public opinion makes their decision before the official court weighs-in. Often the public decides who is guilty and who is innocent before there is ever a trial. This leads to outrage when the result is not as expected, which in turn breeds distrust in our legal system. Of course, our legal system is not perfect. Plenty of people get sent away for doing nothing and plenty of others literally get away with murder. Unfortunately, that is our only means of justice in this country. Many of these cases were highly publicized, and the results therefore angered the public even more when they were found to be acting on self defense.
15. The Death of Officer James Davies
Officer James Davies called police to report a shots-fired incident near his home in Colorado. One of the police to arrive on the scene was Officer D.J. Bradley. Bradley saw a man who he perceived to be the suspect, and told the man to identify himself. When he failed to do so, Bradley shot and killed the supposed suspect. The man who was killed turned out to be the one who reported the crime, fellow officer Jim Davies. This was obviously a tragedy for all involved, but Bradley never faced criminal charges for the incident. District Attorney Peter Weir stated that there should be no criminal charges for the incident, and reiterated that everyone involved had been deeply disturbed. While this didn’t elicit the public outrage that some other killings on this list did, many thought that Bradley should be charged for the incident. This was mostly because Bradley was linked to another an accidental shooting of an unarmed man.
14. Nancy Seaman, Hatchet Murderer
Teacher Nancy Seaman was planning to divorce her husband in 2004, when an altercation occurred that lead to her husband’s death. Nancy reportedly suffered 31 years of abuse at the hands of her husband, but even this fact was later disputed. On May 10, according to Nancy, her husband attacked and chased her with a knife. Nancy retaliated by hitting her husband with a hatchet 15 times before taking the knife and stabbing him an additional 21 times. Nancy actually went to school the next day, as they were unable to find a substitute teacher. When police found the body of her husband in her garage under a tarp, they charged her with first degree murder. During the trial, Nancy plead self defense and claimed that she was suffering in an abusive relationship. One of her sons corroborated the abuse story, but the other claimed that he had never witnessed abuse. The jury eventually decided that the event was premeditated, mainly due to a video surveillance of Nancy buying the hatchet from Home Depot only one day before the incident.
13. Joe Horn, Castle Law Shooter
Joe Horn is a Texas resident who took the law into his own hands when he saw a neighbor’s house being robbed in broad daylight. Horn called the police, and while talking to the dispatcher, warned him that he would shoot at the perpetrators when they left his neighbor’s house. Under Texas law, residents are allowed to shoot any trespassing threat that enters their property. The dispatcher repeatedly told Horn that it was not worth killing someone over, and that police would be there shortly. Horn protested, saying that it was his right to use his firearm to stop the robbers. When the two exited the house, Horn dropped the phone and went to confront them. The 911 dispatcher heard Horn tell the two, “Move you’re dead,” followed by three shotgun shots. The two robbers were killed from the gunshots, both shot in the back. They turned out to be illegal Colombian immigrants. Horn was tried and found not guilty of murder, which sparked a debate about illegal immigration, gun rights and the Texas “castle law” (a law that allows the use of deadly force when someone enters your home).
12. Basil Parasiris, Dynamic Entry Shooting
41-year-old Basil Parasiris lived in Montreal with his wife and two children in March of 2007. The police suspected that he was involved in drug trafficking, and obtained a warrant to search his home. In order to prevent him from destroying any potential evidence, police were allowed to use “dynamic entry” to his home. This meant that they were allowed to forcibly enter without knocking. When the police raided Parasiris’ house in the early morning, he grabbed his pistol and began to shoot at the officers. One of the officers was struck and killed, and others were injured in the ensuing gunfight. When Parasiris realized that the people in his home were police, he dropped his gun and surrendered. He was charged with first degree murder, but there was only a small amount of cocaine in his possession. Parasiris admitted to drug trafficking in his past, but was not currently a criminal. The jury found him not guilty of murder, as the police were wearing plain clothes and the warrant was deemed illegal. He was only found guilty of possessing an illegal firearm.
11. Rachel Wade, Steak Knife Killer
Florida’s “stand your ground” law made national headlines during the George Zimmerman trial, but three years before it was used in the case of Rachel Wade. The 19-year-old was an unhappy member of a love triangle with 18-year-old Sara Ludermann. The two became bitter rivals and openly despised each other. When Josh Camancho, Rachel’s ex-boyfriend, decided to start seeing Sarah instead of Rachel, the former left threatening voicemails that promised that she would murder Sarah. The situation came to a head when Sarah followed Rachel and eventually almost ran her over with her car. Rachel was wielding a steak knife, and stabbed Sarah to death before she could leave the car. Rachel’s lawyer evoked the “stand your ground” law, and argued that Rachel only acted out of fear for her own safety. The jury disagreed when they heard Rachel’s threatening voicemails, and sentenced her to 27 years in prison.
10. Greyston Garcia, Radio Killing
Greyston Garcia was another Florida resident who evoke the “stand your ground” law in Florida, but with more success than Rachel Wade. A robber broke into Garcia’s truck one night and stole his radio. Garcia, armed with a knife, chased down the perpetrator for more than a block and eventually caught up to him. Garcia stabbed the man once, which was enough to kill him. Garcia was eventually granted immunity from the judge, who stated that Garcia was within his rights to follow the perpetrator in an attempt to retrieve his property. Furthermore, he was acting in self defense by stabbing the man, as the robber swung a bag of radios at Garcia. A medical professional testified on Garcia’s behalf, stating that the weight of the radios was enough to seriously injure or possible kill Garcia, giving him the right to use deadly force in return. Unfortunately, Garcia was killed in 2012 by a stray bullet when he was leaving his job at a convenience store.
9. Howard Morgan, 28-Shots Survivor
Former Chicago police officer Howard Morgan was pulled over in 2005 for driving down a one-way street. What happened next was hotly disputed by both parties. Police say that Morgan drew his firearm and fired a shot at police, prompting them to fire back in self defense. Morgan maintained that police began shooting as soon as they saw his gun and that he never fired at the police. One thing was not disputed, though, as Morgan was shot 28 times by police officers, 21 of which were in the back. Morgan survived the shooting and was charged with discharging a firearm and attempted murder. He was found not guilty of the shooting charge in 2007, but there was no verdict on the attempted murder charge. At a later trial, Morgan was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Morgan’s supporters claim that there was evidence-suppression, and argue double jeopardy, but police were satisfied with the verdict. Morgan was released from prison in 2015 by outgoing governor Pat Quinn, who commuted the rest of Morgan’s sentence. Morgan is now working to clear his name and have his conviction reversed.
8. Sean Bell, Bachelor Party Shooting
23-year-old Sean Bell was celebrating his bachelor party one night in 2006, but he would never live to see his wedding day. An undercover officer at the club reported hearing an altercation between Bell, some friends and a third party. He heard one of Bell’s companions state that he was going to get his gun, and when the group left police believed that they were going to partake in a drive-by shooting. Bell’s car hit an unmarked police van upon exiting, and the officers within fired 50 shots at the car, killing Bell and injuring his friends. There was no weapon in the car.
The officers involved stood trial for manslaughter in 2008, but were found not guilty. While there were no criminal charges for the police officers, almost all of them were fired or forced to resign in the years following the incident. Bell’s family and friends filed a federal lawsuit and received $7M in damages for the incident. While the Bell family found some vindication in the firing of those responsible, some fellow police officers thought that this was unjust and without proper cause.
7. Cordell Jude, Taco Bell Shooter
Cordell Jude was at a Taco Bell drive through one day, when he pulled out and almost struck a pedestrian. The man, Daniel Adkins, was walking his dog at the time, and raised his hands in anger at Jude’s negligence. Jude reported to police that he saw Adkins holding a metal pipe in his hand. This was a threat to both Jude and his pregnant girlfriend who was in the car with him. No such pipe was ever found on Adkins, and it is assumed that Jude mistook the leash that Adkins was holding for a metal pipe. Jude shot Adkins and killed him; the latter was later revealed to be suffering from a mental disorder. Jude was charged with second degree murder, but plead self defense in his trial. He was convicted of manslaughter, as the jury decided that his actions did not meet the standard of Arizona’s self defense law.
6. Robert Durst, Dismemberment and Drag
Robert Durst is an intriguing character and it wouldn’t do his story justice to tell it in one short paragraph. For more on his story take a look at HBO’s docu-series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. One of Durst’s victims was his neighbor Morris Black, whom Durst killed and pleaded self defense in court. Durst testified that his neighbor had entered his apartment when Durst returned home, and eventually pointed a gun at Durst. The two fought, and the gun went off killing Black (according to Durst). In such a self defense case, the logical next step would be to alert the authorities. Instead, fearing that he would be charged with a crime, Durst decapitated and dismembered Black’s body, throwing it in a local body of water. The head was never recovered, which added even more uncertainty to the event. There were other caveats to the event, including the fact that Durst was disguising himself as a mute woman during his stay in Texas. Needless to say, the case raised more than a few eyebrows as to Durst’s true intentions.
5. Kendrec McDade, Unarmed College Student Shot
While responding to a robbery in 2012, police fatally shot a 19-year-old unarmed student named Kendrec McDade. Officer stated that they thought that McDade was the perpetrator. The call ended up being a false flag, and the person who made the call was charged with filing a false report. The officers involved in the shootings, however, were not charged with a crime. This shooting came one month after the highly publicized death of Trayvon Martin, which added to the outrage of the public. When deposed, the officers had conflicting stories about the event, and Officer Matthew Griffen testified that the two chased McDade with no sirens and never warned him that they were going to shoot. Officer Jeffrey Newlen, however, claimed to have seen McDade carrying a weapon and even reported to have seen a muzzle flash. Both officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing and sent back to patrol. McDade’s family was understandably upset, and the community at large was dissatisfied with the result.
4. Oscar Grant, Fruitvale Station Murder
Californian Oscar Grant’s death was one of the more highly publicized police killings in recent memory, even inspiring the film Fruitvale Station. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officers detained Grant, who was unarmed and compliant with the officer’s requests. While handcuffed, one of the officers took out his gun and shot Grant in the back while another officer knelt over him. Grant later died from the gunshot wound. The cell phone video of Officer Johannes Mehserle shooting Grant went viral and sparked public outrage, as citizens demanded a conviction of the officer. Mehserle testified that he intended to pull out his taser, but instead pulled out his pistol and shot Mr. Grant. In 2010, Mehserle was found not guilty of second-degree murder, but was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 2 years in prison. He was released after 11 months. The verdict elicited further outrage from the community, and violent protests erupted in the streets of California. An estimated 150 people were arrested during the protests.
3. Walter Scott, Fled Shooting Mistrial
Walter Scott (left) was one of many police shootings of unarmed black men that has been publicized over recent years. Officer Michael Slager (right) stopped Scott for having a broken taillight in Charleston, South Carolina. The two reportedly engaged in a struggle, and Scott began to run away from the officer. Scott was worried that the officer would find that he had a warrant for unpaid child support, which motivated him to run away. In a vivid cell phone video that was shown all over the news, Officer Slager shot at Walter Scott eight, three of which struck and killed him. He was then handcuffed, and some say Slager attempted to plant a taser on the body of Scott. Slager was charged with murder. He testified that he perceived Scott to still be a threat while running away, as the man was much bigger than Slager and could turn and charge. The trial ended earlier this month (December 2016), and the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision. They were reportedly only one vote away, but a mistrial was determined and Slager was set free.
2. The Infamous Trayvon Martin Shooting
The 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin sparked a nationwide dialogue about gun rights and racism. George Zimmerman, captain of the Sanford, Florida, neighborhood watch, called 911 on February 26, 2012 to report a suspicious person. The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow or confront the person, but Zimmerman disregarded the warning. Instead, he followed the person who turned out to be 17-year-old Martin. Only Zimmerman truly knows exactly what happened when the two faced off, but it ended with Zimmerman fatally shooting Martin. Zimmerman claimed that Martin attacked him, and that Zimmerman was acting in self defense. He was not initially charged for the killing of Martin, as police said it was impossible to disprove his version of events. Nearly everyone, including President Barack Obama, weighed-in on the issue, and general public sentiment was that Zimmerman should be held accountable. He was eventually charged, but the jury found him not guilty of murder or manslaughter, which was in large part due to Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law. This controversial death gave raise to the Black Lives Matter activist movement.
1. Infamy Repeats With Michael Brown Shooting
Just two years after the Trayvon Martin case, the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown was one of, if not the most, publicized police shooting in history. The outrage surrounding the case fueled seemingly endless protests in and surrounding Ferguson, Missouri. Police claimed that Brown attacked police in their car and attempted to steal a gun. Witnesses claimed that they saw Brown with his hands up before police shot him to death. Brown was shot at least six times and was unarmed at the time of his death. Officer Darren Wilson, the man who killed Brown, was twice exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing in this case, which lead to further outrage in the community and across the country. Many protests were peaceful, but some erupted into riots, especially after police intervention. The protests that followed Michael Brown’s death showed the public how militarized local police forces have become, which has began a dialogue about the necessary tools law enforcement needs in order to keep the peace.