Man charged in 2014 with brother-in-law’s murder argues in court that he was ‘standing his ground’
by Robert Joseph Baker | November 16, 2015 2:10 pm
A 27-year-old Manning man accused in the shooting death of his brother-in-law told a 3rd Circuit Court judge Monday that he was simply “standing his ground” under a state law that allows the use of deadly force when the defendant feels a reasonable threat to his safety.
Isaac Joseph Baughman II was charged Dec. 5, 2014, with the murder of Steven Brown, 18, of Manning.
During Monday’s hearing, witnesses testified that both men had been drinking the night before and the morning of the incident at Baughman’s home on Raiders Drive. Baughman, who said Monday that he has cystic fibrosis and is hospitalized for the illness at least four to six times annually, said he was charged by the victim on his porch, leading to the shooting.
Questioned by attorney Ray Chandler of Chandler and Jennings, Baughman told Judge R. Ferrell Cothran that he and his wife, Candace Brown Baughman, were at his home about 2 a.m. Dec. 5 when his friend, Austin Wimberly, told the couple that someone had stopped at the end of the driveway and had cut off the vehicle’s headlights.
“I was concerned someone was there to do me harm,” Baughman said. “(Other people) had come a couple of weeks before that to rob me, so I had obtained a weapon.”
Baughman testified that as a felon with convictions for possession of a stolen vehicle and third-degree arson, he was not allowed by federal law to have a gun.
“I did go and get the weapon and went to the front door,” Baughman said. “I couldn’t see anything. I opened the door and stepped out on the porch, outside the house, and the storm door shut behind me.”
Baughman said he noticed someone “crouched like they were doing pushups right beside my house.”
“He leapt up and charged me, he ran at me up the steps,” Baughman said. “He was wearing sunglasses, a hat and a bandana around his face, and I couldn’t tell who it was. The gun went off and he fell.”
Baughman said it was only after his alleged assailant fell and the bandana came down off his face that he realized he shot his brother-in-law. He said he and his wife, along with Wimberly, got the victim into his wife’s mother’s vehicle and drove the victim to the hospital. Brown still had a pulse, Baughman said. The victim died at the hospital from a gunshot wound to the face.
Testifying for the state, Wimberly said Baughman knew who his assailant was.
“Candace Baughman identified the person coming up the driveway as her brother, Steven Baughman?” asked 3rd Circuit Assistant Solicitor Chris Durant.
“She did,” Wimberly said.
Wimberly also told deputies and the court that Baughman went to the hospital with him, the victim and his wife, but that he then fled. Baughman said during his testimony that he was out of cigarettes and his “nerves were shot.”
“I didn’t run off,” he said. “My nerves were shot, so I went to my aunt’s house for cigarettes.”
“Isn’t it true you told your wife you were going to lay low for a few days?” DuRant asked.
“No, I never said that,” Baughman answered. “(Deputies) arrested me as soon as I woke up the next day.”
Baughman was arrested at his mother’s home off Greenall Road, Clarendon County Sheriff’s Office Inv. Kimberly Marlowe testified. She said Baughman’s mother later presented deputies with the gun that shot the victim. Baughman’s mother testified that her son and his wife told her the gun was on her son’s property behind a shed.
DuRant also questioned Baughman about his statement to deputies after his arrest. Baughman and all the witnesses, including Robert Lee, a friend of the victim’s who rode with him to Baughman’s home, initially told authorities that the victim was shot on Arlen Road and that Candace Brown Baughman went to that location to retrieve her brother.
Wimberly told the court Monday that the defendant came up with that initial story, and Lee said when he arrived at the hospital, Wimberly and Candace Brown Baughman told him to tell deputies the same story.
Lee testified that he and the victim were drinking at the victim’s home in the Home Branch area when Brown decided to drive the five-minute, three-mile ride to Baughman’s home.
“I guess he just wanted to fight Isaac,” Lee said. “I just thought we were going to get Candace. He didn’t like Isaac and he didn’t like his sister being with her.”
Baughman testified that he and his wife had a fight earlier in the day on Dec. 4, and that his mother-in-law had called law enforcement.
“I wasn’t arrested and I wasn’t taken to jail,” Baughman said. “The police told her that she needed to leave the home and not come back until the next day.”
Baughman said, instead, his wife returned to the home about 12 a.m. Dec. 5, after a series of text messages between the two. He said he and his wife had retired to the back bedroom of the home when Wimberly came and told them his wife’s phone was “going off.”
“I glanced at the phone and saw a text message,” Wimberly said. “It was from Steven, and it said, ‘OK, I’m coming.'”
Asked by DuRant and Blair Jennings, Chandler’s partner, about his conflicting statements to deputies shortly after the shooting, Wimberly said he was “in shock” and that he didn’t remember saying certain things to deputies.
“You don’t remember telling deputies that Steven walked up to the porch and said, ‘What’s up, m—–f—–,’ and then he lunged at Isaac?” Jennings asked.
“I believe you that I said it, but I don’t remember saying it,” Wimberly said. “I was in shock at the time.”
Wimberly was also asked about the text message he allegedly saw on Candace Brown Baughman’s phone.
“You didn’t think to tell Candace or Isaac that her brother had texted her?” Jennings asked.
“No, I didn’t think anything of it,” he said. Wimberly said he again neglected to tell the couple about the message when the vehicle stopped at the home’s driveway.
“Candace saw the person coming up the driveway, and she kept saying, ‘That’s my brother,'” Wimberly said. “I just thought they’d have another argument and they’d leave. They argue, but they never do anything. I didn’t think anything of the message.”
Jennings argued after testimony was complete that Baughman is entitled to immunity from prosecution under the state’s Protection of Persons and Property Act, which codifies the “Castle Doctrine,” or the legal theory that a “man’s home is his castle, and he can therefore defend it.”
“I think all the facts relevant to this case clearly show that Mr. Baughman was in fear for his life, and that he was in his home, which he was not required to leave,” Jennings said. “We believe he is entitled to protection from prosecution under the statute. He was without fault in bringing on this altercation. He had reasonable fear of his safety, and he’s removed from the obligation that he retreat, because he was in his home.”
DuRant argued that Baughman was acting in an unlawful manner as a felon in possession of a firearm, and he is therefore not entitled to protection for “standing his ground.”
“By the defendant’s own admission, he was a felon in violation of the law,” DuRant said.
Jennings countered that case law holds in several instances that a convicted felon not allowed by law to have a firearm can defend themselves by arming themselves when they feel there is imminent danger to their lives.
DuRant further argued that the court – and by extension the judge – is “not simply required to accept the defendant’s version of the facts.”
“The court is authorized to weight the underlying claim in its entirety,” DuRant said. “In previous case law, the court has determined it’s a question for a jury, and that immunity is not guaranteed, when there is conflicting testimony with witnesses and the accused. The elephant in the room here is that everyone lied. No one told the truth. And I would contend that (the defendant) is still lying today. He testified on the stand that he had no idea where the gun was. His mother testified that he told her where it was.”
Cothran said he would review all evidence and case law presented and he would make a written decision. Chandler said judges have no set deadline to render such a decision.