Defense argues for self-defense in 2016 fatal North Austin shooting


Highlights

Stephens told police he did not have to shoot Earl, but testified that he now thinks his life was in danger.

Prosecutors said Melvin Stephens made a number of wrong assumptions before shooting Dedrick Earl.

By his own admission, Melvin Stephens did not have to pull out a gun and fire upon a man who was chasing him up a flight of steps at a North Austin apartment complex.

Stephens told police investigating the November 2016 shooting that it was the worst mistake of his life and “I didn’t have to.”

But in a Travis County courtroom this week, Stephens testified that, upon reflection, he now believes his life was in immediate danger. His lawyer, Robb Shepherd, told the jury he was “begging” them to acquit Stephens of a murder charge in the slaying of 22-year-old Dedrick Earl.

“Dedrick Earl is dead because of the decisions that Dedrick Earl made that day,” Shepherd said.

The jury had been deliberating for two hours as of press time without reaching a verdict.

The dispute between the two men on Nov. 16, 2016 began when Stephens confronted Earl and his friend in the apartment complex parking lot about dumping ashes from a burned magazine on his blue Ford Taurus.

Stephens, a 49-year-old former security guard, returned to his upstairs apartment unit and called police, telling the dispatcher he had a gun with him. A little time passed before he again confronted the men as they were cleaning up the mess. The man who was with Earl, Juanya Touchstone, testified that Stephens threatened to “blow your head smooth off” or “blow your brains out.”

Earl grabbed a ketchup bottle filled with water and threw it at Stephens. Both men walked off; Stephens to his place and Earl to Touchstone’s apartment downstairs. But before Stephens could make it to the door, he was approached by Earl, who had come out of Touchstone’s apartment and was sprinting up the steps. Stephens grabbed his .357-caliber revolver and fired, hitting Earl in the neck.

The men were so close at the time of the shooting that the victim’s blood ended up on Stephens’ hand.

With the lawyers on both sides agreeing that Stephens was the shooter, the trial has focused on whether the shooting was justified. The defense argued that Stephens’ life was threatened, pointing to bloody scissors found on the steps that Shepherd said Earl had gotten from Touchstone’s apartment just before the fatal confrontation.

Touchstone told detectives that “it looked like he was going to use it to attack the dude.”

“That is Dedrick Earl’s own friend saying that,” Shepherd told the jury. He added, “thank goodness Melvin Stephens had a deadly weapon.”

But Stephens, who said he had been awake for 24 hours at the time of the incident, never mentioned anything about scissors in his 90-minute interview with police. He said he assumed Earl had a weapon when he sprinted up the steps, but that he did not know what it was.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Lindsay Richards said the defendant “made a lot of assumptions — a lot of wrong assumptions.” Another prosecutor, Bill Bishop, played video of the police interview in which Stephens said he did not have to shoot the victim.

“This is a straight up killing and there’s no justification for it,” Bishop told the jury. He called the alleged threat imposed by Earl “a fantasy attack.”

Stephens faces five to 99 years in prison, if convicted of murder. He has no prior criminal history.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Florida man shoots girlfriend once, returns and shoots her fatally, deputies say
Florida man shoots girlfriend once, returns and shoots her fatally, deputies say

A Florida man faces a first-degree murder charge after allegedly firing a shot at his girlfriend, fleeing the scene, then returning and shooting her a number of times, The Tampa Bay Times reported. >> Read more trending news  Nathaniel J. Yates, 32, of Largo, is accused in the shooting death of Christine Giles, 28, of Seminole, according...
How did low-income Texas schools fare under state’s A-F rating system?
How did low-income Texas schools fare under state’s A-F rating system?

Although they tended to perform better under the state’s new school rating system than under the previous one, Texas schools with the highest rates of low-income children still performed worse than schools with wealthier student bodies. Among Texas schools with the highest percentages of low-income students, 6 percent of them failed to meet state...
PolitiFact: Increasing share of state money goes to charter schools
PolitiFact: Increasing share of state money goes to charter schools

A Democratic legislator declared that state aid fully fuels Texas charter schools while schools serving the vast bulk of students field less money. State Rep. Donna Howard of Austin said in a tweet: “Here’s the thing. In Tx, charters get 100% state $/pupil funding while district schools (95% students) get about 1/3 funding from state w/...
Traffic report for Aug. 20, 2018

Interstate 35 (Hays County): Various closures in both directions between Yarrington Road and Robert S. Light Boulevard from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday nights. Interstate 35 (Travis County): The left lane on the southbound access road will be closed between Three Points Road and Cheddar Loop Road from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday...
As first bell rings Monday, Mendez Middle School gets second chance
As first bell rings Monday, Mendez Middle School gets second chance

Mendez Middle School’s Principal Joanna Carrillo-Rowley knocked on the door to the mobile home. Wearing jeans, a school shirt and a pair of Converse shoes, Carrillo-Rowley was pounding the pavement on a recent summer night in search of students who were zoned to attend her middle school but had not registered. It was a tactic she previously used...
More Stories