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To establish the doctrine of defense of another in a homicide prosecution, a defendant must show by sufficient evidence that he or she used reasonable force, including deadly force, in a situation where the defendant had a reasonable belief of the lawfulness of his or her intervention on behalf of another person who was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which such person could save himself/herself only by using force, including deadly force, against his or her assailant, but was unable to do so.
Brenda S. Cook is forty years old and is married to Gerald Cook. Since 1979, the Cooks have lived in a trailer home on Dover Hollow Road near Moorefield, West Virginia. In May of 1994, the Cooks purchased a two acre tract of land contiguous to their trailer. The two acre tract of land was bound by a road called Hickory Ridge Road. Hickory Ridge Road was used for ingress and egress by several families living in the area. Shortly after the Cooks purchased the two acre tract of land, they were harassed and threatened by a few neighbors living in the area. The problems were due, in part, to the Cooks' placement of a fence and rocks along the edge of their property on Hickory Ridge Road even though there was no evidence at trial indicating that the fence and rocks prevented the normal ingress and egress of residents in the area. One of the individuals who harassed and threatened the Cooks was the victim, Homer Buckler. On May 7, 1997, Mrs. Cook telephoned Trooper Tom Wood to ascertain the status of an investigation into the vandalism of the Cooks' nearby cabin. Trooper Wood indicated that he was going to come out to the area to speak with Mr. Buckler about the matter. Shortly after the telephone conversation with Trooper Wood, Mrs. Cook heard a truck engine racing outside her home. She looked outside and saw Mr. Buckler throwing rocks onto her property in the direction of her husband, Mr. Cook. Mrs. Cook fired a warning shot into the air in an effort to get Mr. Buckler to leave the area. After firing the shot, she proceeded to walk hurriedly to her husband's side. Upon approaching her husband and Mr. Buckler, Mrs. Cook pleaded with Mr. Buckler to leave them alone. Mr. Buckler would not listen. Mr. Cook turned from Mr. Buckler and began walking away. Mrs. Cook testified that as Mr. Cook walked away, Mr. Buckler attacked him and spun him around. At which point, Mr. Cook took a swing at Mr. Buckler. The evidence indicated that Mr. Buckler then proceeded to throw Mr. Cook to the ground and began beating him. As Mr. Buckler beat Mr. Cook, who was defenseless and pleading for mercy, Mrs. Cook rushed to help her husband. Mrs. Cook held the shotgun in one hand and attempted to pull Mr. Buckler off of her husband. Mr. Buckler paused long enough to strike Mrs. Cook and rip her shirt open. Mrs. Cook testified that after she was struck by Mr. Buckler she continued pleading with him to stop beating her husband. Mr. Buckler ignored her and continued beating Mr. Cook. Mrs. Cook testified that she was afraid her husband would be killed, so she aimed the shotgun at Mr. Buckler's right arm and fired. The shot landed under Mr. Buckler's right armpit. Mr. Buckler lived for a short period of time after the gunshot. He was taken to Memorial Hospital and Medical Center in Cumberland, Maryland, where he was pronounced dead. Subsequently, a grand jury rendered a one count indictment charging Mrs. Cook with first degree murder. The trial began on August 11, 1997. On August 14, 1997, a jury returned a verdict finding Mrs. Cook guilty of second degree murder. The trial court sentenced Mrs. Cook to a definite term of twenty-five years imprisonment. This appeal followed.
Did the State fail to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mrs. Cook did not act in defense of another?
The court vacated the judgment and remanded the case for entry of a judgment of acquittal. The court held that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mrs. Cook did not act in the defense of another when she used deadly force against the victim. The court held that Mrs. Cook was privileged to use deadly force against the victim in defense of her husband. The court held that the amount of force used by Mrs. Cook was reasonable, that she had a reasonable belief that her intervention was lawful, and that Mrs. Cook’s husband was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.