Teresa Thomas was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas, Athens County, of murder with a firearm
Teresa Thomas was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas, Athens County, of murder with a firearm specification, and she appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court, Alice Robie Resnick, J., held that: (1) there is no duty to retreat from one’s own home before resorting to lethal force in self-defense against a cohabitant with equal right to be in home, but (2) jury instructions on self-defense did not have to contain detailed definition of battered woman syndrome.
On September 15, 1993, Teresa Thomas, defendant-appellant, shot and killed Jerry Flowers, her live-in boyfriend. At her trial for murder, Thomas admitted to shooting Flowers, but asserted that she had shot Flowers in selfdefense, basing the defense on battered woman syndrome.
Thomas and Flowers had known each other for most of their lives when they first began dating two years prior to the shooting. By the end of 1991, Flowers and Thomas began living together. In July 1993, they moved into a new mobile home.
Thomas testified that the relationship was marked by violence and intimidation, including incidents of Flowers pushing her against a wall, injuring her shoulder enough for her to go to the emergency room, and punching her in the abdomen, rupturing an ovarian cyst. She stated that he would purposely soil his clothes and then order her to clean them. He controlled the couple’s money, and eventually ordered Thomas to quit her jobs. He did virtually all of the grocery shopping. On the two occasions when he permitted her to do the shopping, he required her to present to him the receipt and the exact change. At times, he would deny her food for three to four days. He also blamed his sexual difficulties on her.
Approximately three weeks before the shooting, Flowers’ behavior became more egregious. In the middle of the night, almost every night, he would wake Thomas up by holding his hands over her mouth and nose so that she could not breathe. Flowers had trouble sleeping and on several occasions accused Thomas of changing the time on the clocks. He often told her how easy it would be to kill her by snapping her neck, shooting her with a gun, or suffocating her, and then hiding her body in a cave. This discussion occurred almost every time they awoke.
Three days prior to the shooting, Thomas fixed a plate of food, which Flowers refused to eat or to let her clear from the table. He put cigarette butts in the food and played with it. Thomas testified that if she had cleaned up the food he would have beaten her.
1. State the three elements of self-defense in cases involving coinhabitants.
2. Summarize the majority decision arguments supporting Ohio’s law of self-defense involving coinhabitants.
3. Summarize the importance to the majority that the case involved domestic violence.
4. According to Justice Stratton’s concurring opinion, how do “issues involved in domestic violence complicate any attempt to consider a duty to retreat from one’s own home”?
5. According to Justice Pfeifer’s dissent, why should a “cohabitant be required to attempt to retreat before resorting to lethal force in self-defense against another cohabitant”?
6. According to Justice Cook’s dissent, why would “imposing the duty to retreat upon cohabitants not leave the occupant of a home defenseless from attacks”?
7. Consider the following comments:
a. Retaliation, as opposed to defense, is a common problem in cases arising from wife battering and domestic violence. The injured wife waits for the first possibility of striking against a distracted or unarmed husband. The man may even be asleep when the wife finally reacts. Retaliation is the standard case of “taking the law into your own hands.” There is no way, under the law, to justify killing a wife batterer or a rapist in retaliation or revenge, however much sympathy there may be for the wife wreaking retaliation. Private citizens cannot act as judge and jury toward each other. They have no authority to pass judgment and to punish each other for past wrongs.
b. “The right to use force in the defense of one’s person, family, habitation, lands, or goods is one of the unalienable rights of man. As it is a right not granted by any human code, no human code can take it away. It was recognized by the Roman law, declared by that law to be a natural right, and part of the law of nations. It is no doubt recognized by the code of every civilized State” (Thompson 1880, 546).
c. “A man is not born to run away. The law must consider human nature and make some allowance for the fighting instinct at critical moments. In Texas it is well settled, as you might imagine, that a man is not born to run away” (DeWolfe Howe 1953 I, 331).
8. In your opinion, did Teresa Thomas kill Jerry Flowers in self-defense, as a preemptive strike, or as retaliation?
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