Two years ago, during a domestic dispute in their Charleston, South Carolina, home, Whitlee Jones stabbed and killed her boyfriend Eric Lee. Prosecutors charged her with murder.
Earlier this month a judge found that Jones, now 25 years old, was justified in stabbing Lee under the South Carolina Protection of Persons and Property Act, the state’s “stand your ground” law.
The Post and Courier of Charleston reports that the 9th Circuit Solicitor's Office has vowed to appeal that ruling, arguing that Jones is not the kind of person the law was intended to protect. The law should not apply to couples involved in domestic disputes inside their homes, the prosecutors said.
Jones was arrested in November 2012 after Lee died of the stab wound she inflicted during the argument.
The two were quarreling over a cell phone. Jones had left the house earlier in the evening but Lee grabbed her by her hair and tried to pull her back inside. A neighbor called police but Lee convinced the responding officer that there had been no physical altercation. Jones had left the home by that time.
She returned later that night to collect her belongings. Her attorney said she was planning on leaving Lee for good. Jones claims Lee tried to stop her from leaving and, in one report, said he grabbed and shook her while they argued in the home’s front room. That is when she pulled the knife and stabbed him, piercing his heart.
Think Progress reports that Judge J.C. Nicholson ruled October 3 that Jones was eligible for “stand your ground” immunity, a ruling that protected her from the murder charge.
In doing so the judge rejected prosecutors’ arguments that that the law should not be extended into a couple’s home. Nicholson said not extending the law in such a way would create a “nonsensical result” in which victims of domestic violence could defend themselves against an attacker outside their home but not inside — where domestic violence is more likely to occur.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson and Assistant Solicitor Culver Kidd have begun contacting lawmakers and courts around the state asking that they clarify the law and its application.
Kidd said in a recent court filing that the law had become “the criminal contingent's best defense” and “a potential license to kill.”
“(The Legislature's) intent ... was to provide law-abiding citizens greater protections from external threats in the form of intruders and attackers,” Kidd said recently, describing how he thinks the law should be construed. “We believe that applying the statute so that its reach into our homes and personal relationships is inconsistent with (its) wording and intent.”
There are currently two other domestic violence cases in the state in which a defendant is charged with killing a housemate and invoking a “stand your ground” defense.
Ashley Pennington, a public defender for the 9th Circuit, whose office is representing the women, said the law affords victims of domestic violence an opportunity to defend themselves that they did not have before the Protection of Persons and Property Act was passed in 2006. Before that, she said, many victims were afraid they could be charged with murder for defending themselves.
“Confusion about the law has been an enabling factor, historically, that might have allowed more domestic violence,” Pennington said. “People were afraid to defend themselves. This law allows people who are being attacked to defend themselves.”
But Kidd argues the law potentially increases violence rather than reducing it.
“Our concern is that the statute makes it very easy for people to shoot or stab first,” he said, “and to then exaggerate their fear or the real danger.”