What could have been a “stand your ground” self-defense claim for one young Georgia man has been denied by a judge after a review of statements made by the defendant.
The case of Jessie Murray, 33, began the evening of February 16, 2014, when Murray met with his estranged wife to discuss the future of their marriage and the well-being of their children. The couple had frequented Benefields Sports Bar in Clayton County, Georgia, for many years and was known by many members of the staff.
After eating dinner, the couple decided to play a game of pool and enjoyed a few drinks during the night. There was a party taking place at the bar and a drunken male stumbled into Murray’s wife Traci, and made no apology for his actions. It was at this point that Murray stood between his wife and the man and told him to get away from his wife. The drunken man, later identified as Nathan Adams, a former police officer, told Murray, “You need to f***ing leave” and four other men began to surround Murray.
Murray was able to move away from the men but Traci was trapped. So Murray went to his car to retrieve his licensed handgun and try to get his wife out of the bar and away from the men. When he tried to reenter the bar, the door was blocked by the group of men who continued in their aggressive behavior. Murray told the men to let his wife out of the bar and they told him his wife wasn’t going anywhere and started towards him in the parking lot.
That is when Adams threw a punch at Murray and the other four men jumped into the fight and began to kick and punch Murray, tackling him to the ground. During the scuffle, Adams attempted to reach into Murray’s pocket where he had his gun and during the fight the weapon went off, striking and mortally wounding Adams. One of the men in the group then pulled his gun and shot four times at Murray, who was able to escape and run into a nearby tire shop where he called police.
When police arrived, Murray surrendered his weapon and was trying to explain what happened and was handcuffed by the responding officer. While he was cuffed, a member of the group that assaulted Murray ran forward and punched him in the head. While he was cuffed! The officer did not arrest the man who assaulted Murray and instead placed Murray into the back of his patrol car. While he was being placed in the car, an off-duty and out of uniform officer, who was a friend of Nathan Adams, arrived at the scene. He shouted at Murray, “Do you know who we are?! We’re going to fry your black a**!”
Adams was transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead and Murray was transported to jail. He was charged with murder and aggravated assault. No other person was charged for their actions that night.
All Murray wanted to do was defend his ex-wife and mother of his children from a group of drunken men at a bar. Even the court documents described Murray as being assaulted by the Nathan Adams, a former police officer, and three of his friends.
Jessie Murray testified in a hearing before Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert Collier to determine whether he would be declared immune from prosecution because he was justified in using deadly force when he shot and killed former police Officer Nathan Adams.
“I was scared. I was definitely, at that moment, I was in fear. I was scared,” he said on the witness stand. Murray says he was very afraid when several white men began attacking him outside the bar.
He said one of those men was Adams. Murray says the men punched and choked him while Adams grabbed his arm in a tactical move.
“As he was pulling on me I just remember him grunting like ugggh… ughhhh,” Murray said.
Murray says soon after that Adams hands got close to the gun he had just retrieved from his car.
“At that point when I pulled back that’s when my gun discharges,” he said.
Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert Collier denied Jessie Murray the use of stand your ground as a defense in his murder trial. In the decision, Judge Collier felt that Murray was not in fear of his life when he was attacked by a group of four men. The judge stated that “nor does it appear to this Court that the other men in the vicinity were acting in such a way that would cause the defendant to reasonably believe that deadly force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or a third party.”
The judge stated that the reason Murray could not use the defense was because he said his gun fired by accident during the struggle with the victim and his three friends.
Judge Collier went on to say, “The Court cannot reconcile the defendants asking for immunity under a self-defense statute, by stating that the use of deadly force was justified, and then also stating that the use of deadly force was unintentional.” There is no ‘accidental self-defense.’
The Court seems to be saying that Murray should have allowed himself to be beaten first and then used his gun as a last resort.
“We respectfully disagree with all of the law cited and most of the facts stated in the Judge’s order,” read a statement issued by Murray’s attorney, Mawuli Mel Davis. “If being physically assaulted by 3 men is not a grounds for a person to defend themselves by any means necessary, I am unclear what is. It is our hope our Motion for Reconsideration will be heard.”
U.S. Law Shield of Georgia Independent Program Attorney Matt Kilgo offered a review of the case. Kilgo stated that “Georgia law is clear on the issue of immunity. In order to rely upon the defense of justification, you must admit the allegation. Proclaiming the shooting an unintentional act is directly at odds with the concept of the justified use of deadly force.”
“The danger in Mr. Murray’s testimony as recounted here.” Kilgo went on to say, “is that the defense of justification relates to intentional acts. Georgia law is clear that you must admit the allegations in order to rely on the defense of justification. In other words, Mr. Murray cannot claim the shooting was an accident and rely on the defense of the justified use of deadly force. One cannot intend an accident.”
Kilgo added, “Mr. Murray’s attorney has a very good point. While each situation where justification is offered as a defense is different, a fight against three men at once – one of whom apparently was armed – provides compelling evidence that Mr. Murray had a reasonable belief the use of force (and in fact deadly force) was necessary to protect himself from death or great injury.”
Murray is facing up to 15 years in prison for trying to defend his ex-wife.
That’s is why following and incident, you need to speak with an attorney before you give a statement to the police.
(Information for this article was taken from various media sources)