SUMTER — An 82-year-old man who police say shot and killed a man trying to repossess his truck was not entitled to use deadly force to protect himself or his property, a judge has ruled.
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Circuit Judge George C. James made that ruling Wednesday in the case against Alton Shelley, The Item of Sumter reports.
Shelley was arrested in November on charges of murder and assault in the death of Todd Showell. Deputies say Showell and another man arrived at Shelley's Sumter home looking for a burgundy GMC pickup truck.
Deputies say Shelley came out of his house and shot Showell as the men were driving away in a tow truck. His attorneys had argued that Showell and Gerald Lee, owner of Silver Hawk Towing and Recovery, had no right to enter Shelley's property and that their client feared for his life.
Shelley testified that Lee pointed a gun at him and refused to unhitch his truck from the tow truck, but the judge said Wednesday he didn't believe that story.
Charleston School of Law associate professor Miller Shealy said that in most cases you cannot use deadly force to protect your property unless you are responding to a threat. He said calling this situation “self-defense” would infer a lack of lawful authority, which is not the case with repossession personnel. It would be like resisting arrest from law enforcement.
“As long as they have authority under the law to act as they do, … they're not the initial aggressor, so you can't resist them,” Shealy said.
Attorney David Aylor, adjunct instructor at the College of Charleston, said a judge in these cases must weigh the many different elements involved to see whether the perpetrator acted in a life-threatening situation.
“In these circumstances, we already know who has committed the act,” he said. “It's just whether (or not) the act was justified or in self-defense.”
Shelley and his attorneys in the case were unable to prove to James that deadly force was needed.
“They felt, from what I've read, that (the stand your ground defense) was not established partially or in full,” Aylor said.
As far as precedent for future Castle Doctrine and stand your ground defense cases goes, Aylor said most instances are so different that it will rely on the judge's application of these laws.
James set Shelley's bond at $100,000 surety or property while he awaits trial. Bond for Denise Livingston, 44, who is charged with accessory after the fact to murder, has been set at $40,000 surety.
The Associated Press and Post and Courier reporters Nick Watson and Jade McDuffie contributed to this report.