The Supreme Court of Georgia has reversed the murder conviction and life prison sentence given to a man for shooting and killing a man he said he believed had been molesting his niece.
In a unanimous opinion May 29, Justice Hugh Thompson wrote that a DeKalb County trial judge erred in excluding evidence of the alleged molestation. And it was an error not to instruct jurors that they could consider the man guilty of the less serious charge of voluntary manslaughter, according to the Georgia Supreme Court.
According to briefs filed in the case, Steven Lamar Scott, 22, lived with his parents and sister on Wilkins Court in DeKalb County. In a statement to police Scott said his 16-year-old niece told him that her mother’s boyfriend, Dan Smith, had been molesting her for eight years. Scott said that “once she told me that, something in me just snapped.”
When confronted later that afternoon Smith, according to Scott, responded that the girl was his and that he could do whatever he wanted. Scott said he then “blacked out,” and didn’t remember what happened next. But according to witnesses, Scott fired 12 rounds at Smith, stopping at one point to reload. Smith died from nine gunshot wounds. When police arrived, Scott was sitting outside smoking a cigarette.
Under state law, a charge of voluntary manslaughter—rather than murder—is permissible when someone kills following “serious provocation sufficient to excite [irresistible] passion in a reasonable person.”
The trial judge ruled to exclude evidence regarding the shooter’s provocation and in March 2010 the jury found Scott guilty of felony murder, aggravated assault and a gun charge, and he was sentenced to life plus five years in prison.
According to the May 29 opinion, the trial judge erred by refusing to charge the jury on the less serious offense of voluntary manslaughter.