Self-Defense: The Story of Ray Thompson
As a State employee with the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Ray Thompson supervised people who were convicted of crimes and on House Arrest. Ray was also a part time Courtesy Officer at the apartment complex where he lived. Ray lived in the top apartment and below him lived a man named Oliver Griffin. Mr. Griffin lived with his two kids and girlfriend. As a courtesy officer Ray's job was to help the apartment manager keep the apartments safe and clean so it would be a suitable place for people to live and raise a family.
Mr. Griffin and his girlfriend were constantly fighting. The fighting was loud and violent. On seven (7) prior occasions Ray was forced to report Mr. Griffin to the apartment manager and call the police. In March of 2014, Ray called the police due to the fighting. The police arrived and while talking to Mr. Griffin they found a pound of marijuana in his apartment. He was arrested and was given a thirty (30) day eviction notice.
Once again, on April 27th, 2014, Mr. Griffin and his girlfriend were having a violent fight inside their apartment. Ray heard the fighting and believed he had no choice but to call the police. After calling the police Ray walked down stairs to await their arrival. Ray suddenly heard a horrible scream from a woman coming from the apartment. Fearing that a woman was being violently injured, Ray pulled a pistol from his holster and kicked open the door of Mr. Griffin's apartment.
At this point, the testimony at trial reflected two (2) divergent stories. According to Mr. Griffin's girlfriend and his two (2) kids, there was no violent screaming, only arguing. They testified Ray kicked in the door, snatched Mr. Griffin up by the collar, dragged him outside, and kicked him while Ray took him to the parking lot to await the police. In the parking lot, eight (8) witnesses claimed Ray shot Mr. Griffin. They claimed Mr. Griffin's hands were raised and he was doing nothing except asking Ray to leave him alone.
After spending months with Ray and getting to know him, my partner Chuck Mullins and I did not believe the story from these witnesses. There was more to this story then what the prosecution's witnesses were telling us. There had to be another story. After a thorough investigation and speaking to Ray, we came to firmly believe Ray Thompson shot in self-defense. In Mississippi and many other states, a person may shoot another in self-defense based on a real or apparent danger of suffering serious bodily harm. But the belief has to be "reasonable." So for Ray to be justified in his self-defense, he must have had a reasonable belief that Mr. Griffin was going to do him some real or apparent serious bodily harm. The accused does not have to prove self-defense, rather the prosecution must disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
Chuck Mullins and I set about developing Ray's story. Ray told his story to the jury. According to Ray, Mr. Griffin was a constant source of problems at the apartment complex. He and his girlfriend were always fighting and he was verbally violent and aggressive with other people at the apartment. Ray had to call the police multiple times. On the day of the shooting, Ray called the police and waited for their arrival. He heard a blood-curdling scream from a woman inside Mr. Griffin's apartment. In a split second he made the spontaneously decision to kick in Mr. Griffin's apartment door. Once Ray opened the door he ordered Mr. Griffin to step outside to await the police. Mr. Griffin began cussing and threatening Ray. As they walked toward the parking lot Mr. Griffin continued resisting and making threatening comments like "you better be glad you got that gun." When they reached the parking lot Mr. Griffin jumped into a boxing stance and began coming at Ray. Ray ordered him back. At this time in Ray's mind he was thinking, "if this man hits me and gets my gun, he is going to kill me." Mr. Griffin made more comments and his hand began to reach into his pocket. Ray begged him to stop reaching into his pockets or he would be forced to shoot. Mr. Griffin ignored the warnings and quickly reached in and Ray fired.
All of the prosecution's witnesses claimed Mr. Griffin's hands were completely empty, raised up by his chest, and he never reached into his pockets. We knew this was untrue because Mr. Griffin's keys were seen several feet away from his body. It was clear to us that the prosecution's witnesses were being very slanted and bias. They obviously did not like Ray because he represented order and structure at the apartment complex. Chuck and I highlighted this bias, motive, and interest without ever directly attacking the witnesses. We called Ray and his wife as witnesses and rested. We had an expert witness on reaction times. The expert could testify how quickly a person can pull a weapon from a pocket and shoot, but we decided not to call that witness.
We rested with two (2) witnesses and argued the case. The two Assistant District Attorney did marvelous closing statements. After they finished Chuck and I knew we had to summons our best skills at marshaling the facts and presenting it in a way the jury could understand. Our theme was along the lines: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. We explained how Ray went into the apartment to help a woman, and in the end every one turned on him. The prosecution argued Ray was responsible for the entire chain of events. We argued that if Mr. Griffin had not been beating his girlfriend and had followed directions, none of this would have ever happened. Mr. Griffin put Ray in a positon where he had to act in apparent self-defense. After over two (2) hours of jury deliberations, the jury found Ray not guilty.
This was a hotly contested case. It could have gone either way. In America we have an adversary system of justice. That means each side has an adversary, whose job is to present the facts most favorable to his or her side. I remember a phrase from a Sherlock Holmes story that goes like this: "Evidence can point toward both guilt or innocence at the same time, with equal force, depending on the disposition of the viewer of that evidence." In America we have great legal principles like the presumption of innocence, the right to not testify, and the rule that guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. I believe these great principles make America what it is in terms of freedom and opportunity. In the case of Ray Thompson, the jury utilized these principles and they were persuaded that Ray's self-defense beliefs were reasonable. It was a great pleasure representing Ray. Our hearts do go out to the family of Mr. Griffin. This was a terrible tragedy.