A quarrel that apparently began over women ended with the death of Antonio Johnson, who was shot when he tried to break through his cousin's front door, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor said Monday.
James C. Smith, 36, entered an Alford plea to reckless homicide with a one-year gun specification for the Dec. 30 shooting that ended his cousin's life. Initially charged with murder, Smith entered a plea to a lower charge because of laws protecting a homeowner's right to defend his residence.
Smith faces up to four years in prison when sentenced Aug. 22 by Judge Linda Jennings.
Assistant County Prosecutor Rob Miller said in court the evidence would have shown Mr. Johnson broke the glass of the outer door as well as windows in the front door. He added that neighbors overheard the two men quarreling before hearing a shot.
"After further investigation and when considering the law on the Castle Doctrine, we felt this was the appropriate resolution in this case," Mr. Miller said.
According to case law, the Castle Doctrine says "a person is pressured to have acted in self-defense when attempting to expel or expelling another from his home who is unlawfully present." It further states that a homeowner is "allowed to use deadly force or force great enough to cause serious bodily harm."
Mr. Miller said the quarrel began when Smith learned that Mr. Johnson had sent text messages to Smith's girlfriend. In response, Smith sent messages to Mr. Johnson's girlfriend implying that Mr. Johnson was interested in Smith's girlfriend, Mr. Miller added.
It was this exchange that resulted in Mr. Johnson going to Smith's Parkdale Avenue address about 4:15 p.m. and banging violently on the door, Mr. Miller said.
The shot Smith fired through the door hit Mr. Johnson in the chest and went into his heart, Mr. Miller said. After opening the door, Smith tried to get the victim to the hospital and asked a neighbor to call for emergency help.
When police and medical crews arrived, Smith at first denied involvement but then admitted he was the shooter, Mr. Miller said.
Authorities said someone intentionally set fire to Smith's house shortly after his arrest; the case is being investigated as an arson.
In an Alford plea, the defendant maintains his innocence or does not admit he committed a crime but acknowledges that evidence is sufficient for a conviction. The court treats it as a guilty plea.
Members of Mr. Johnson's family were in the courthouse but not in the courtroom during Smith's court appearance. Mr. Miller said they were aware of the plea.
Attorney Richard Roberts, who was appointed to represent Smith, told Judge Jennings that Smith considered the entirety of the case, including a possible self-defense claim, before agreeing to the plea.
"There's always a risk going to a jury trial. Somebody lost his life," Mr. Roberts said after the court appearance. "Of course he regrets it occurred. When he opened the door and saw who it was, he tried to help. But he believed someone was trying to break into his house, and he was fearful for his life."
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