Murder or Self Defense? – You are a juror.

On one of my recent trips out of town, a stranger sat down by me in the rest area of a shopping mall, and after we had exchanged pleasantries, he told me a story which is as disturbing as it is interesting. He started out by letting me know that he was carrying a concealed weapon on his person. I asked him how long he had carried a concealed weapon and if there had been a specific event or situation which had prompted him to decide to do that. The stranger responded by telling me a story about an incident which he said happened late one night many years ago. He went on to say that after that incident, he had never been without his concealed weapon. The stranger told his story in a slow, deliberate and convincing manner which leads me to conclude that his story is at least partly true. Even though I cannot vouch for the truth of the stranger’s story, I can say that what I recall here of his story is accurate in its most essential details.

The stranger said that it all started late one night when he and his wife were awakened by a disturbance in the apartment neighborhood where they lived. I believe (but am not certain), that he said that his wife was pregnant at the time, which would have made the disturbance more objectionable.  The disturbance was caused by a group of men who were doing car wheelies in a grassy area just outside their apartment. The stranger said he got up and dressed and put his pistol inside the back of his pants and went outside to talk to the men. He did not at first reveal to the men that he was armed. He said he approached the men to a distance of about 25 feet and told them in a calm and polite manner that they were disturbing his and his wife’s rest and that he would appreciate it if they would stop the disturbance. One of the men responded by asking the stranger who did he think he was, then pulled out a pocket knife which he opened and lifted above his head.
“I’m gonna cut your head off” the man with the knife said and started walking slowly toward the stranger.
“You’re not going to cut my head off, the stranger said he told the man with the knife.
“I’m gonna cut you,” the man with the knife repeated.
“No you’re not going to cut me” the stranger said as he pulled out his pistol and pointed it at the man with the knife.

At that point, another man appeared at the stranger’s side with a drawn gun and said to the man with the knife, “no, you’re not going to cut this man.” The man who had just appeared then walked to the man who was still holding the knife over his head, stuck the barrel of his pistol to the man’s chest and shot three times.  The stranger said that three close-together bullet holes were found in the dead man’s heart. According to the stranger, the man who fired the shots was an off-duty police officer.  The policeman was put on paid leave during the police investigation, then charged with and tried for murder. The police officer, the stranger said, was found not guilty on the grounds that he had acted in self defense. I asked the stranger if he had testified at the trial, and he said he had. I then asked him if he had told the court exactly what he had told me, and he said he had.

The stranger didn’t mention any details about the court trial, like whether the police officer or any of the other men on the scene had testified or that either side had presented any evidence. Now, assume that you had been a juror in this trial and assume that the stranger testified to exactly what he told me. Further, assume that there was no other witnesses or evidence presented to confirm or refute the stranger’s testimony.  Would you have voted to acquit the police officer or to convict him of murder?

I would love to hear your answer, especially if you elaborate a bit.

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