Self-defense law again sparks debate in Clinch case

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | 2:01 p.m. CDT; updated 9:55 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 16, 2009

COLUMBIA — Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight was in court Tuesday making a case yet again for why evidence related to self-defense should be excluded in the murder trial of William Clinch.

Clinch, 38, who is from Hallsville, has been charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the fatal shooting of his brother-in-law, Jeremy Bohannon, 32, in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant in Columbia in September 2007.

Clinch’s sister, Amanda Clinch, had divorced Bohannon a month before the incident and accused her ex-husband of abusing their three young children and threatening to kill her, according to previous Missourian reports.

On the day he was killed, Bohannon arrived at McDonald’s for a scheduled supervised visit with his children. When Clinch saw him, he “ambushed him and shot him to death,” according to court documents.

Knight said he expected Clinch's defense attorney, public defender Michael Byrne, to use evidence regarding Bohannon's alleged abuse of his children to support the argument that Clinch, in shooting Bohannon, was acting in defense of others. However, Knight argued before Judge Gary Oxenhandler Tuesday morning that on the day of the shooting, there was no imminent threat of force against the children. Thus, this evidence should be excluded from entering the case.

It was the second time Knight had sought assurances from a Boone County Circuit judge that a jury would receive instruction that in order to find that Clinch had acted in defense of others, his actions must have been in response to an "imminent" threat. In January, Knight dismissed and refiled charges against Clinch after Judge Gene Hamilton refused to include the word "imminent" with the word "threat" in the jury instructions.

Tuesday, Oxenhandler said he was not second-guessing Knight's decision to dismiss and refile the case and that he is entitled under the law to do what he had done.

When Knight presented his request to exclude evidence, Oxenhandler referred to it as a “preemptive strike” to receive a direct verdict on the issue of self-defense.

The evidence could be relevant to other claims but not self-defense because the threat must be imminent, Knight said.

The self-defense law, which addresses the issue of imminence, was slightly changed in 2007. Instead of including a list of specific felonies where deadly force could be used for protection of self or others, the new statute was expanded to allow it in any forcible felony.

Knight and Byrne discussed the similarities and differences between the old and new statutes.

Since the word “imminent” has never been included in subsection 2 of either the old or revised law, its interpretation sparked a debate between the attorneys.

"Civilization would break down without the imminence requirement," Knight said.

Knight argued that without the requirement of using force to protect someone against imminent harm people could "take the law into their own hands." These preemptive actions would often be unnecessary and result in "jeopardizing the safety of uninvolved citizens," according to Knight's motion.

But, Byrne said that the legislative change to the statute "replaces the general language of use or imminent use of unlawful force with the specific language of death, serious physical injury, forcible felony or unlawful entering a residence," that do not require imminence.

Oxenhandler took both arguments under advisement, saying he wanted to do some of his own research. He said he would not rule on the issue until noon on April 1.

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Tom O'Sullivan March 26, 2009 | 8:44 a.m.

I agree with Dan Knight. Using Michael Byrne's reasoning people would be justified in killing paroled murderers and child rapists out of fear they would commit similar acts. That would certainly be one way to reduce the number of Registered Sex Offenders in Boone County. Is there any INDEPENDENT proof Bohanon abused his children? I'm guessing Byrne is going to pull some stunt such as marching the defendant's family to the stand all of whom will naturally proclaim the victim was abusive to his wife, his kids, etc. Even if there are documented, substantiated allegations against the victim, which remains to be seen, Dan Knight was absolutely correct when he feared "the end of society" if this type of defense is allowed.

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Ricky Gurley March 26, 2009 | 10:49 a.m.

Well Tom, what about the Battered Wife Defense? When a female is in a mental state where she feels "trapped" or "imprisoned" in her own home with an abusive husband, she has a defense for killing him.. It was used as what was known as "The Burning Bed Defense". In these cases, are these females ALWAYS under an imminent threat of harm when they kill their abusive husbands? Answer, NOPE! In some cases the husband was asleep. These types of cases present a "mental state defense".

Comparatively speaking, why shouldn't Mr. Clinch be allowed to use a similar "mental state defense"? His sister has restraining orders against Mr. Bohannon, had reported several instances of abuse, nothing was done by anyone. What Mr. Clinch saw was a continued abuse of these children, without any protection from an ineffective legal system, and no possibility of it being ended by legal means. So, in his mind the only way to protect these children was to end the life of their abuser. It is very similar to the "Battered Wife Defense", and in the Battered Wife Defense", the defense is allowed to offer evidence of the abuse that the wife suffered in her defense.

We still have more marriages than not that end in divorce rather than one spouse killing the other, so the institution of marriage has not broken down to murder over divorce. And so, what makes you think this defense for Mr. Clinch will cause society to break down into a state of vigilantism? Don't you think that Mr. Knight's description is just a bit over-exagerated? I doubt this defense will bing an end to society... LMAO!

If Mr. Byrne pulls any "stunt", it will not be as big a "stunt" as Mr. Knight pulled in waiting until the Jury was assembled and then deciding to drop and refile charges just to get another Judge to hear this case; because he did not like how the first Judge chose to hear this case. Furthermore, Mr. Knight does not get to go "Judge Shopping", although it seems that he has gotten away with it thus far. It might be interesting to see how he reacts if Judge Oxenhandler is of the same opinion on this issue as Judge Hamilton was.....


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