An 82-year-old man accused last year of shooting at two repossession men and ultimately killing one was not entitled to use deadly force to protect himself or his property, according to 3rd Circuit Judge George C. James.
Alton Shelley, of 1684 Fletcher Drive, Sumter, however, will await trial for a charge of murder in the shooting death of Todd Showell, 38, of Rembert, as a free man should his family pay the $100,000 surety or property bond granted by James on Wednesday at the Sumter Judicial Center. Shelley’s co-defendant, Denise Livingston, 44, who is charged with accessory after the fact to murder, was granted a $40,000 surety bond. Both were ordered to have no contact with each other.
James said Wednesday that Shelley is not entitled to immunity from prosecution under the state Protection of Persons and Property Act, which allows the use of deadly force in limited situations. Shelley’s attorneys, Wade Kolb and Murrell Smith, argued to James on Monday that Showell and Gerald Lee, owner of Silver Hawk Towing and Recovery, had no right to enter Shelley’s property, that their intrusion was tantamount to a forceful entry and that Shelley feared for his life.
Shelley was arrested Nov. 20, 2012, at his home, minutes after Showell was shot and bled to death at the scene. He and Lee had attempted to repossess a 2003 GMC Sonoma pickup truck sitting underneath Shelley’s carport, having mistaken it for a 1994 truck of similar color, make and model. Shelley testified Monday that Lee had refused to “drop his truck off the (stinger of the tow truck)” and had pointed a gun at him.
“I conclude that (Shelley’s) accounting of Lee pointing the weapon at him is not credible, at least not to me,” James said. “It’s worth mentioning that in her statement (Livingston) mentions nothing about a gun. She says only that they refused (to put his truck down off a tow truck) and (Shelley) shot a few times.”
Smith and Kolb had also asked James to rule that Shelley was well within his rights to use deadly force under Stand Your Ground laws, which do not require persons approached with deadly force to retreat when they are in a place in which they have a right to be and in which they themselves are committing no unlawful acts.
The incident stemmed from a prior situation in September in which Livingston had allegedly taken out title loans on two trucks owned by Shelley, including the 1994 truck. Lee had repossessed another truck in September, and Shelley said he told him to stay off his property.
“Judge, (Lee) was there unlawfully, because he was told to stay off the property,” Smith said Monday.
James disagreed, saying Lee had a valid contract with the title loan company to repossess the truck and that he was unaware of any alleged forgeries from Livingston regarding the title loans. “The part that I have the most trouble with is the unlawfully and forcibly entering (Shelley’s property),” James said. “Undoubtedly, Lee entered the carport. Nothing convinces me that (Showell) entered the carport, and there is no evidence in my view that entry was forcible by either man. ... (Shelley) has also not established by the great weight of the evidence that either Lee or Showell attacked him.”
Smith and Kolb have 10 days to appeal James’ ruling to a higher court. Third Circuit Solicitor Ernest “Chip” Finney III said because of Shelley’s age, health problems and the time a full appeal could take kept him from actively opposing Shelley’s bond.
“We’re aware that process may take an extended amount of time, and the (Showell) family is aware of the process,” Finney said. “It’s a compromise, but we feel it’s reasonable.”