Self-Defense Cases

17 Cases

 San Diego County, CA

David Genzler

Apr 18, 1996 (Ocean Beach)

David Genzler was convicted of the murder of Dusty Harless, 25. In college, Harless was an AAU National Wrestling Champion. He worked as a wakeboard (surfboard) salesman, and was a world-class wakeboarder. He was apparently very popular as hundreds showed up at his funeral. After midnight one Saturday night, Harless walked with his girlfriend, Sky Flanders, to a nearby liquor store with the intention of hailing a cab. Because it was raining, Flanders ran up ahead to get out of the rain. Genzler was driving by and stopped his car to ask if she needed a ride or, according to some, made a lewd comment. He was not aware that she was with Harless. Harless went around to the driver's side of the car to talk to Genzler and an altercation ensued. Harless ended up with a four-inch stab wound that cut his aorta, the massive artery that carries blood from the heart. He soon bled to death. Genzler drove off.
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Santa Clara County, CA

P. F. Lazor

Jan 1983 (Los Gatos)

P. F. Lazor shot a man named John Allred who broke down his door and was swinging a meat cleaver at him. Allred also wielded a handgun which turned out to be a BB-gun, but looked like the real thing. After Allred stopped, though was still standing, Lazor called police and got the man medical attention, but he died several hours later. Because of police suppression of evidence and manufacturing of new evidence, Lazor was convicted of murder.  (Copy of Old Website) (New Website)  [11/05]

Siskiyou County, CA

Coke & John Brite

Aug 30, 1936 (Horse Creek)

Coke and John Brite, brothers, were convicted of the murders of deputy sheriffs Martin Lange and Joseph Clarke, as well as the murder of Captain Fred Seaborn, a U.S. Navy officer. The Brites, who were gold prospectors, returned to a cabin on their rented land, where their parents stayed, and then headed out again. At nightfall they set up camp on the land of a neighbor, B. F. Decker, and went to bed. Two intruders then entered their camp, another neighbor, Charley Baker, and his friend, Fred Seaborn. At trial, Baker alleged they were looking for a strayed horse that Baker owned. It was later learned that Baker had been using the cabin on the Brites' property for rent-free storage and had motive to drive the Brites from their land. Baker and Seaborn picked a fight with the Brites, which proved to be a mistake as the Brites made quick work of them. Baker then went to a judge and talked him into issuing warrants charging the Brites with assault.
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Siskiyou County, CA

Patrick Croy

July 17, 1978 (Yreka)

Patrick Eugene “Hooty” Croy was sentenced to death for the murder of Bo Hittson, a Yreka police officer. A weekend of partying led to an ill-fated shoot-out between police and a group of Native Americans, including Croy. Croy was convicted of attempted robbery, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, assault, and the murder of the police officer.

In 1985, the California Supreme Court overturned most of Croy's convictions. The Court found that the trial judge had read the wrong instructions to the jury, allowing the jury to convict Croy of robbery even if he did not intend to steal. Because the murder conviction was based on the theory that Croy had intentionally committed a robbery that had caused the officer's death, the murder conviction was reversed.

At retrial in 1990, Croy's defense presented evidence that Croy acted in self-defense during the shoot-out, including evidence that Croy himself was shot twice during the altercation, expert testimony regarding the antagonistic relationship between law enforcement and local Native Americans at the time of the crime, and that Officer Hittson had a blood alcohol level of .07 at his time of death. Croy was acquitted of all charges for which he was tried, based on self-defense. The trial court entered a finding that, if the conspiracy and assault charges had been included in the retrial, Croy would have been acquitted of them as well. Croy was resentenced on these charges and was released on parole.

In 1997, Croy violated parole and was given an indeterminate life sentence. In 2005, Croy's original conspiracy and assault convictions were also overturned. The state decided not to appeal and Croy was freed in Mar. 2005. He had served 19 years in prison, 7 of them on death row.  (85) (Info)  [6/08]

 Hinsdale County, CO

Alferd Packer


Alferd Packer was convicted of murdering five prospectors he had guided into the mountains during the winter of 1873-74 and who had become stranded there with him. Packer contended that one day when he returned to camp after looking for food, one of the prospectors, Shannon Bell, had killed the others and was roasting a piece of meat he had cut out of leg of one of them. Bell then attacked Packer with a hatchet and Packer shot Bell in self-defense. Packer said he tried to find a way out of the mountains every day, but could not, so he lived off the flesh of the dead men. Packer escaped execution on a technicality. Under pressure from a campaign led by a Denver Post columnist, Packer was granted a conditional parole in 1901 after 18 years in prison. Modern forensics and the journal of a Civil War veteran who had seen the bodies appear to confirm Packer's story.  [6/05]

Randolph County, GA 

Lena Baker

Apr 30, 1944 (Cuthbert)

Lena Baker, a black woman, was convicted of murdering Ernest B. Knight, a white grist mill owner. After Knight hired Baker to care for him while he nursed a broken leg, a sexual relationship developed between the two. Following Baker's attempts to break off the relationship, Knight found her and forced her to go with him. Baker managed to escape, but Knight found her again and locked her in a gristmill. Later, according to Baker, during a tussle between the two over a gun, the gun went off killing Knight. Baker was executed in the electric chair on March 5, 1945.

In 1998 while the director of a prisoner's rights group, John Cole Vodicka, was visiting the Randolph County Courthouse, the Court Clerk asked him if he wanted to look into Baker's case. The clerk gave him the court file, which included the 10-page trial transcript. Vodicka later came into contact with a great-nephew of Baker, and in 2003 helped in the filing of a pardon application for her with the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. Vodicka expressed confidence that “almost any lawyer could have pled Lena Baker not guilty by reason of self-defense.” The Board of Pardons and Paroles apparently agreed with him and granted Baker a posthumous pardon on Aug. 30, 2005. A 2001 book about the case was published entitled The Lena Baker Story.  (Justice: Denied)  [10/08]

Orleans Parish, LA 

James Bunch

June 19, 1981

James Bunch was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for one count of murder. Bunch asserts he acted in self-defense.  (IIPPI)

Jefferson Davis County, MS 

Cory Maye

Dec 26, 2001 (Prentiss)

Cory Maye, a black man, was sentenced to death for the murder of a white police officer. One night while the 21-year-old Maye was drifting off to sleep in front of a television, a violent pounding on his front door awakened him. It sounded as though someone was trying to break it down. He retrieved his handgun and went to the bedroom where his 14-month-old daughter was sleeping and got down on the floor next to the bed. He hoped the noises would go away, but they shifted around to the back of the house, where after a loud crash, Maye's rear door was violently flung open, nearly separating it from its hinges. After someone kicked open the bedroom door, Maye fired three shots. The next thing Maye heard is someone scream, “Police! Police! You just shot an officer!” Maye then dropped his gun and surrendered.  The shot officer, Ron Jones, was wearing a bulletproof vest, but one of Maye's bullets hit him just below the vest and proved fatal. Jones was the son of the town's police chief.

Maye was severely beaten after his arrest. Police denied this charge, but a press photo shows him with a swollen black eye. Maye's family was prohibited from seeing him for more than a week – long enough for his bruises to heal. Police had raided Maye's duplex because a reputed drug dealer – a person Maye had never met – lived in an adjoining half of the duplex. A confidential informant said there were large stashes of marijuana in both halves of the duplex. Only the remains of a smoked joint were found in Maye's duplex. Maye had no criminal record and police did not know his name prior to the drug raid. Maye's conviction has provoked outrage not only by liberals concerned about racially charged Southern Justice, but also by conservative supporters of the right to bear arms. Maye's death sentence was overturned in Sept. 2006.  (Reason)  [4/07]

Reynolds County, MO 

Joseph Huett

Aug 1935

Joseph Huett, a lawyer, was charged with the shooting murder of Raoul Hunter, a sawmill worker. Along with Huett, Huett's wife and Lee Bowles, a justice of the peace, had been present during the killing. At trial Bowles testified that Huett killed Hunter without provocation because of a long-standing political feud. The jury convicted Huett of manslaughter and he was sentenced to five years of imprisonment. Seven months later Bowles admitted he perjured himself because Hunter had been his friend and “I hated Huett.” Hunter had actually been gunning for Huett who shot him in self-defense. Shortly after Bowles' admission, Huett was released from prison.  (Not Guilty) (News Article)  [6/08]

Bronx County, NY 

Georgino Borrero

May 8, 1982

“Georgino Borrero, a [drug] store security guard, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in Bronx County on July 6, 1983, in the shooting death of John Johnson. [The shooting occurred near the store located at 1500 Metropolitan Ave.] On appeal in 1986, the Appellate Division found that, after Johnson pulled a gun on him, Borrero had left the store to find a police officer and fired only when Johnson advanced toward him with a gun and assumed a ‘combat stance.’ The court found that Borrero had ‘acted entirely reasonably.... [His] conduct was that of a responsible citizen.’ His conviction was reversed and the indictment dismissed.” – Inevitable Error  (Appeal)

Columbus County, NC 

Johnnie Beck

Nov 24, 1995

Johnnie Beck, 18, used a hunting rifle to shoot twice into the chest of Jeffery Watts, 19, in the parking lot of a Whiteville Burger King. Watts had just stabbed Johnnie's twin, Ronnie Beck, three times in the chest and once in the arm, just before turning on Johnnie and slicing off his left thumb. Johnnie was charged with second-degree murder as the state argued that the second shot was premeditated murder, even though it was fired only one to two seconds after the first. Watts happened to be a relative of state senator R.C. Soles. There was a last minute change of judges before trial and the trial was marked by jury tampering. The defense argued self-defense, but Beck was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to a minimum of 10 years imprisonment.

Beck was released in June 2006 after the charge was reduced to manslaughter and he was released with time served. Beck's father spent half-a-million dollars on lawyers and investigators before successfully having his son's murder conviction set-aside.  (Blue Line Radio)  [3/07]

Monroe County, PA

Michael Manning

June 16, 1997 (Scotrun)

Michael Manning was convicted of the third-degree murder of Harry Burley Jr.  Burley, 30, was fatally stabbed at a Sunoco gas station on Route 611 in Scotrun. Burley was the boyfriend of Manning's stepsister. On Route 611 Burley and his friend Tyrone Bass, 30, were behind Manning in Bass's car, and after Manning, then age 27, stopped for gas at the Sunoco, Bass and Burley pulled in behind him. At trial, witnesses disputed events, but apparently Burley and Manning wrestled and punched each other for nearly two minutes.
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Colleton County, SC 

Michael Linder

June 29, 1979

Michael Linder was sentenced to death for murdering Willie Peeples, a highway patrol officer. Linder contended he acted in self-defense because the officer had groundlessly fired six shots at him. At trial the prosecution presented expert witnesses who testified that the officer never fired his gun. At a retrial the defense secured previously undisclosed ballistics evidence from the state crime lab and was able to prove that the officer had fired his gun and that the prosecution's witnesses had distorted other evidence to make it appear that Linder had been the aggressor. Linder was acquitted at his retrial and released in 1981.  (NY Times)  [7/05]

Beaver County, UT 

Tony Hamilton

Sept 9, 1999

Tony Alexander Hamilton was convicted of the attempted murder of Sheriff's Deputy John Chambers. Hamilton was a member of a religious commune that had purchased 640 acres of land at Vance Springs, located west of Milford, UT. The commune believed that as a religious organization it possessed tax-exempt status and consequently did not pay taxes. After 5 years of non-payment the property was seized by the taxing authorities.
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Pierce County, WA 

Gary Benn

Feb 10, 1988 (Puyallup)

Gary Michael Benn was sentenced to death for the shooting murders of his half-brother, Jack Dethlefsen, and his half-brother's friend, Michael Nelson. The shootings occurred in Dethlefsen's house. At trial Benn did not testify directly, but he made statements to a third party who testified to his version of events. According to this version, the killings were in self-defense. Benn's version was reasonably corroborated by the position of the bodies relative to the guns in the house. The killings were presumably not premeditated as Benn did not use his own gun, but had left it in his car. Dethlefsen had a reputation for violence.
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 Alberta, Canada

Richard McArthur

Jan 24, 1986

Richard McArthur was convicted of the stabbing murder of a fellow inmate at the Drumheller Penitentiary. Following McArthur's conviction he met four witnesses in regard to the stabbing while serving time at the Edmonton Institution. They informed him of what they knew about the stabbing, explaining their earlier denial of knowledge to Drumheller investigators was because they did not want to get involved. These witnesses supported McArthur's contention that he killed the deceased in self-defence. Three of these witnesses saw the deceased, armed with a knife, go to McArthur's cell shortly before the stabbing incident. Based on this new evidence, the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned his conviction. Since McArthur had already served the minimum time for his conviction and the crown did not wish to retry him, the Court also ordered his acquittal.  (R. v. McArthur)  [8/09]

 Ontario, Canada

Rodney Cain

Apr 7, 1985 (Toronto)

Rodney Cain was convicted of murdering Joel Willis outside an after-hours club located at 566 St. Clair Ave. West in Toronto. Cain's conviction was overturned in May 2004 because of new evidence that strongly suggested Cain acted in self-defence. Cain is currently free on bail while a court decides whether to order a new trial or exonerate him.  (Canoe) (R. v. Cain, 2006) (The Star)  [12/05]