A'Kara Travil Edwards didn't think she needed a lawyer when she sat down for three hours and told North Charleston police detectives about how she killed her boyfriend.
About the law
The S.C. Protection of Persons and Property Act was signed into law June 9, 2006, and recognizes that a person's home is his castle. The law also extended the doctrine to include a vehicle and place of business. It authorizes the lawful use of deadly force under certain circumstances against an intruder or attacker.
Under the law, there is no duty to retreat if:
The person is in a place he has a right to be.
The person is not engaged in unlawful activity.
The use of deadly force is necessary to prevent death, great bodily injury or a violent crime.
A person who lawfully uses deadly force is immune from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits, unless the person against whom deadly force was used is a police officer acting in an official capacity and that he properly identifies himself as such or the person using deadly force knows or reasonably should have known that the person is an officer.
Source: State Law Enforcement Division
The 19-year-old had the right to remain silent.
Instead, Edwards told the police about her argument with Alex Stevven Whipple, 22, inside her Kent Avenue home. She kicked him out, she told them, but when he grabbed a hammer and started hitting her car, she got a knife and ordered him to leave.
She told the investigators that he dropped the hammer but balled his hands into fists and came after her, according to her attorney, Kevin Holmes. That's when he got stabbed.
When she left the questioning room Aug. 4, Edwards didn't think she would be going to jail. But the next day, the detectives called her and told her to turn herself in. The charge was murder.
"I think they are trying to read too much into this," Holmes said Thursday. "(Whipple) was committing a crime, but he didn't leave. What happened after that is what happened."
Whipple's is one of two deaths in as many weeks in the North Charleston area that could further shape how the S.C. Protection of Persons and Property Act, which allows certain people to use deadly force when faced with imminent harm, is applied in domestic disputes. They also could answer questions about how quickly the police should make arrests when a suspect could use the state's "stand your ground" law.
Each recent case entailed a death that occurred amid a fight between loved ones over a car.
Citing the self-defense implications, the prosecutor on Edwards' case agreed to $50,000 bail. She was freed Wednesday, and her attorney plans to ask a judge to grant her immunity from civil and criminal prosecution.
But Whipple's mother, Micki Zalatimo, 50, of West Ashley, said Thursday that her son's death could have been avoided if Edwards hadn't armed herself.
"I hear all this stand-your-ground talk, and I've already prepared myself for her to walk free again," she said. "But it's not going to stop me from letting my son's voice be heard and bringing attention to those laws."
Michael Anthony Brown Sr., 54, still sits behind bars as attorneys consider his defense.
Deputies accused him of shooting his son, 19, in the head July 26 at his Winchester Street home. When they arrested him, the investigators noted that their argument was winding down when Brown ratcheted it up again by grabbing a gun and trying to scare off his son, who had two drug convictions and pending attempted murder charges in a 2011 drive-by shooting.
Ninth Circuit Public Defender Ashley Pennington, whose office was assigned the case this week, said Thursday that it was too early to tell whether attorneys also would request immunity for Brown. Too many facts in the shooting remained unclear, Pennington said.
But Pennington said the law has added a wrinkle to domestic violence situations that unfold on someone's own property. In those ordeals, someone who feels threatened might not run away, he said. Authorities usually more thoroughly investigate an alleged crime before making arrests, he added.
"I do think that the duty to retreat has been eliminated in situations when it's on your own property," Pennington said. "The idea that I have to make that decision to run out of my own house is off the table."
'Stayed in the house'
During the months they had been dating this year, Edwards' and Whipple's relationship had never turned violent, her attorney said.
Whipple had past drug charges on his rap sheet that had been dismissed. But he also had a conviction for assault from three years ago, when Charleston police said he went to a man's home and punched the resident in the face during an argument.
Whipple was "verbally abusive" during his quarrel with Edwards earlier this month, but it wasn't violent at first, Holmes said.
When he started bashing her Chrysler, the car Edwards used to commute to her job as an operator at a call center, she fetched a knife from the kitchen, Holmes explained.
"She really thought he would leave when she told him to get out," Holmes said. "She didn't want to call the cops because he'd get arrested."
What happened next was something Edwards called an accident because she never wanted to kill him, the attorney said.
Edwards told detectives that her boyfriend fell into her knife when he lunged at her. The blade punctured his heart.
But his wound wasn't consistent with that story, the police later said without explaining what they meant.
"I'm not really sure what their theory was," Holmes said. "It was one stab wound. It's not like she was stabbing him in the back 20 times."
Whipple's mother, Zalatimo, told a magistrate after Edwards' arrest that the defendant needed to spend time in jail and think about what she had done.
But Edwards left earlier this week, when a judge approved her bail and ordered her to stay at her house with her family while awaiting prosecution. Edwards had no prior arrest history and had been studying for a two-year college degree.
Depending on what her attorney finds out, the prosecution that Zalatimo wants might never happen.
Once he gathers more evidence, Holmes promised in court paperwork to assert during a pretrial hearing his client's "right to defend herself." Courts have established the process for such immunity hearings in order to prevent trials in clear self-defense cases.
Zalatimo expected the hearing to come in the fall and for it to end in Edwards' favor.
"Maybe the law should be narrower," Zalatimo said. "She came outside, but maybe she should have stayed in the house."
'Our due diligence'
Holmes has successfully defended three other women in past murder cases, including one who stabbed a man two dozen times after he raped her and another who shot a home intruder in the back as he tried to run out the door.
In many situations, Holmes said, authorities often make arrests simply to "let that court process take its course." The courts, though, are "still struggling to figure out how the law works," he said.
But Pennington, the public defender, said detectives this year were taking more time to investigate before throwing someone behind bars. His observation came after two arrests last year by the North Charleston Police Department, including one in a domestic violence homicide, fell apart in the courtroom.
Ronald Reid, 44, was cleared in March after a judge said he acted lawfully by fatally shooting the man who had shot him in the leg last summer outside Cycle Gear.
Reid's attorney argued for months before then that the authorities' arrest of his client had been hasty.
And in December, a judge called 27-year-old Regina Carey's stabbing of Tony Cleveland, 45, a former roommate, a perfect example of self-defense under the stand-your-ground law. Cleveland had attacked Carey twice in June 2013 before she grabbed a knife and plunged it into his chest.
A group of defense attorneys later called the pursuit of the charge against Carey "appalling." Though his office represented Carey, Pennington opposed the group's stance then, but he said he has since seen a change in how authorities approach possible self-defense cases.
"I've noticed this year that the police have become more cautious and careful in analyzing these cases," Pennington said. "They don't always immediately charge."
The prosecutor pursuing the murder count against Edwards, Assistant Solicitor Culver Kidd, said in a statement that cases like hers are complicated and that he couldn't comment on the facts. He anticipated being confronted "in the near future" with the hurdle of the pretrial immunity hearing.
"Whenever someone loses a life at the hands of another, we must do our due diligence," Kidd said. "This is an ongoing case, and there remains much to be done."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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