Friday, November 16, 2007

Rare Robbery Case Renders Cries of Racism.

In Lakeport, California three young Black men break into a white man's home in rural Northern California. The homeowner shoots two of them dead — but it's the surviving Black man who is charged with murder.
Was it self-defense or murder? Was deadly force reasonable or unreasonable under the circumstances? Was the shooter a drug dealer? Had the three youths bought drugs from him before? Why did they go to his house looking to score some drugs? At what point did they disengage and flee for their lives? Why did he have to shoot two of them when he had already killed one? Was he really trying to kill all three fleeing youths? How many slugs did he pump into the backs of the two that he hit with his unsteady aim while under the influence of drugs? All reasonable questions that the prosecutor must have asked and answered before deciding to charge the fleeing unarmed Black youth with two counts of first degree murder!Renato Hughes Jr., 22, was charged by prosecutors in this overwhelmingly white county under a rarely invoked legal doctrine that could make him solely responsible for all the bloodshed. This has brought cries of racism from civil rights groups.
District Attorney Jon Hopkins said that Hughes was responsible for "setting the whole thing in motion by his actions and the actions of his accomplices." Three young Black men broke into the Clearlake house of Shannon Edwards demanding marijuana and brutally beat his stepson. Two of the Black men, Rashad Williams, 21, and Christian Foster, 22, were shot in the back. Hughes fled.
Tests showed that Shannon Edmonds, the white homeowner, had marijuana and prescription medication in his system the night of the shooting. Edmonds had a prescription for both the pot and the medication to treat depression.
Hughes, the surviving Black man, was charged with first-degree murder under California's Provocative Act doctrine, versions of which have been on the books in many states for generations but are rarely used.
Hughes' mother, San Francisco schoolteacher Judy Hughes, said she believes the group didn't intend to rob the family, just buy marijuana. She called the case against her son a "legal lynching." "Only God knows what happened in that house," she said. "But this I know: My son did not murder his childhood friends."
The Provocative Act doctrine does not require prosecutors to prove the accused intended to kill. Instead, "they have to show that it was reasonably foreseeable that the criminal enterprise could trigger a fatal response from the homeowner," said Brian Getz, a San Francisco defense attorney unconnected to the case.
The NAACP complained that prosecutors came down too hard on Hughes, who also faces robbery, burglary and assault charges. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.
The Rev. Amos Brown, head of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP and pastor at Hughes' church, said the case demonstrates the legal system is racist in remote Lake County, aspiring wine country 100 miles north of San Francisco. The sparsely populated county of 13,000 people is 91 percent white and 2 percent Black.
Brown and other NAACP officials are asking why the homeowner is walking free. Tests showed that Shannon Edmonds, the white homeowner, had marijuana and prescription medication in his system the night of the shooting. Edmonds had a prescription for both the pot and the medication to treat depression.
"This man had no business killing these boys," Brown said. "They were shot in the back. They had fled."On Thursday, a judge granted a defense motion for a change of venue. The defense had argued that he would not be able to get a fair trial because of extensive local media coverage and the unlikelihood that Hughes could get a jury of his peers in the county. A new location for the trial will be selected Dec. 14.
The district attorney said that race played no part in the charges against Hughes and that the white homeowner was spared prosecution because of evidence he was defending himself and his family, who were asleep when the assailants barged in at 4 a.m.
"I didn't do anything wrong. All I did was defend my family and my children's lives," said Edmonds, 33. "I'm sad the kids are dead, I didn't mean to kill them."
He added: "Race has nothing to do with it other than this was a gang of black people who thought they were going to beat up this white family."
California's Provocative Act doctrine has primarily been used to charge people whose actions led to shooting deaths.
However, in one notable case in Southern California in 1999, a man who robbed a family at gunpoint in their home was convicted of murder because a police officer pursuing him in a car chase slammed into another driver in an intersection, killing her.

1 comment:

ichbinalj said...

The shooter cannot claim sel-defense because the two young Black men were running away from him when he shot them in the back. The force he used was not reasonable because the two Black men were unarmed and had no weapons of any kind.
Also, the white shooter must have been a drug dealer, because the three Black men went to his home seeking to buy drugs, specifically, marijuana.
Moreover, the shooter's judgement was impaired because he was under the influence of marijuana and prescription medications. The fact that he had a legal prescription to use marijuana does not mitigate the facts that he used unreasonable force in defense of a property crime.
Now, under these circumstances how can the prosecutor refuse to bring any charges against the shooter? Choosing to invoke such a seldom used legal theory as "provokative acts" appears to clearly be an abuse of prosecutorial discretion. This would surely warrant an investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.