A man who fatally shot a man armed with scissors was acquitted of murder and got to go home Friday after a year and a half behind bars.
After deliberating for three hours Thursday, the Travis County jury weighing Melvin Stephens’ self-defense claim needed just 15 minutes Friday morning to return the not-guilty verdict.
“Really happy for Melvin,” his lawyer Robb Shepherd said. “He gets to go home to his family.”
The defense overcame a police interview shown on video to the jury in which Stephens, 49, told investigators he regretted shooting Dedrick Earl and that he “didn’t have to” do it. The two had been feuding at a North Austin apartment complex after Earl and another man vandalized Stephens’ Ford Taurus with ashes from a burned magazine.
But from the witness stand, Stephens testified that he had reconsidered the November 2016 incident and realized his life was in danger when Earl, 22, sprinted up a flight of steps as Stephens was retreating to his home.
Although Stephens never saw the scissors that detectives later discovered on the steps near the area of the shooting, he told the jury that he assumed Earl had grabbed a weapon when he went into a downstairs apartment moments before the fatal confrontation. Stephens fired his .357-caliber revolver, striking Earl in the neck.
A friend who was with Earl at the time of the shooting and saw the scissors told police “it looked like he was going to use it to attack the dude.”
Police never referenced the scissors in a four-page arrest affidavit. There also was no mention of them in a January 2017 grand jury proceeding that led to an indictment and allowed the case to proceed, Shepherd said.
Shepherd said investigators did not order that the scissors be tested for DNA. He later had them tested with the approval of prosecutors, and blood found on them was Earl’s.
Shepherd said he was “irritated” that police made a rush to judgment.
“A poor black man like Melvin Stephens defends himself, justifiably so, and the case has to go to a grand jury,” he said.
There were no pretrial plea negotiations, Shepherd said, and there was no question that he and Stephens wanted a trial.
At the time of the shooting, Stephens was working as a security guard for a company that was under contract to National Instruments. Stephens had no criminal history and had never been arrested.
For a month in 2015, Stephens was homeless and lived in his car. He showered at a gym and saved up money to rent a place.
“He pulled himself up,” Shepherd said.
Stephens is divorced with one child, who is attending college in Sacramento.