Beater’s Killer Can Claim|Self-Defense in New Trial

     (CN) — A man who fatally stabbed an attacker beating him with a broomstick will get a new trial, even though the crime happened before a self-defense law allowing deadly force took effect, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled.
     William Childs, who uses a cane for a spinal cord injury, had been living in Samuel Andrews’ home with him and Michael Beander in July 2010, when Andrews invited Bryant Bell over to celebrate Bell’s birthday.
     An argument sparked, and Bell called Childs a cripple, according to court records.
     Andrews told Bell to leave, so he went and sat on the front steps with Beander.
     Childs and Bell soon restarted their argument through the screen door.
     Bell then went up the stairs, grabbed a broomstick from the porch and busted in, despite Childs’ efforts to hold the screen door closed.
     Bell repeatedly struck Childs with the broomstick until Childs stabbed Bell in the chest once, court records show.
     Bell died from the wound, so Childs was arrested and charged with homicide and possessing instruments of crime.
     About a year later, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed Act 10, amending state law to justify the use of force against someone unlawfully and forcefully entering a home, in Sec. 505(b)(2.1).
     Later in 2011, Childs was convicted on the instruments charge, but the jury deadlocked on the homicide charge.
     The next year, Childs claimed at trial that he acted in self-defense and requested a castle-doctrine jury instruction in line with the Act 10 amendment. The castle doctrine is the principle that a man’s home is his castle.
     The state objected, arguing that the amendment was not effective until over a year after Childs stabbed Bell, and the trial court agreed.
     Childs was convicted of third-degree murder and sentenced to 16 to 32 years in prison, plus five years of probation, on Nov. 16, 2012.
     Childs appealed, and the Philadelphia Superior Court vacated the judgment and remanded for a new trial.
     The state appealed, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling Tuesday, tossing aside the state’s claim that the amendment broadens the rights of the accused.
     “To the contrary, both before and after the enactment of section 505(b)(2.1), a defendant was justified in using deadly force if he or she was not the initial aggressor and had a reasonable belief that such force was necessary to protect against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat, and a defendant had no duty to retreat when attacked in his or her dwelling,” Judge Christine Donohue wrote for the seven-judge panel. “Likewise, both before and after the enactment of section 505(b)(2.1), the Commonwealth could overcome a claim of self-defense under the castle doctrine by establishing that the defendant did not actually possess the requisite fear or that the defendant’s belief was not reasonable.”
     The new section rather “provides an evidentiary mechanism to aid in the fact-finder’s evaluation of the merits of a castle doctrine defense,” the ruling states.
     Donohue later added, “It is a law that provides a method to enforce the right of self-defense as embodied by the castle doctrine. In short, it is a procedural statute.”
     The section thus “applied to litigation pending at the time of its enactment as well as litigation commenced following its enactment,” she wrote.

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