‘He Had Already Hurt Me.’ Alabama Woman Argues For ‘Stand Your Ground’ Immunity In Killing of Alleged Rapist
Brittany Smith, who has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of a man she says brutally raped her, argued in court this week that she acted in self-defense and should be immune from prosecution.
Brittany Smith wiped away tears as she recounted watching her brother, Chris McCallie, struggling to breathe. Speaking before a judge on Tuesday at the Jackson County courthouse in Scottsboro, Alabama, she remembered an acquaintance, Joshua Todd Smith, enveloping Chris in a headlock and threatening to kill him, Brittany, and then himself. Through sobs, she said Chris was unable to free himself and looked like he couldn’t breathe. Brittany said she picked up his pistol from the counter and warned Todd she was going to shoot.
She fired one shot and nothing happened, she told the court. A second shot also failed to discourage Todd. Brittany said she fired a third shot and Todd and Chris both fell to the ground. She and Chris called 911 and Todd was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“He had already hurt me,” she testified of that night in January 2018, when she says Todd had raped her twice. “He was fixing to kill my brother.”
Brittany, who has been charged with first-degree murder and is facing a life sentence, was in court this week to argue that she acted in self-defense under Alabama’s broad “Stand Your Ground” law. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Holt held a hearing to determine whether Stand Your Ground was applicable and she should be immune from prosecution. Holt will issue an order that will either grant her immunity or send the case to trial, where a jury will decide her fate. If she goes to trial, Brittany can argue self-defense.
For two years, Jackson County District Attorney Jason Pierce, who in March 2018 convened a grand jury that indicted Brittany for murder, has asserted that Todd was not a threat to Brittany and Chris. Throughout this week’s hearing, he challenged Brittany’s account of events and attempted to cast doubt on her story that she was raped. He accused Chris of instigating the violence that led to Todd’s death, and argued that meant that Brittany should be prosecuted for Todd’s death.
All in all, Holt heard from 11 witnesses on Tuesday and Wednesday. Jeanine Suermann, the nurse at the rape crisis center who examined Brittany the morning after the incident, testified that her injuries were “extensive” compared to other survivors she has seen. After reviewing graphic pictures in the courtroom showing her 33 wounds, including bite marks, fingerprints on her breast, a broken acrylic fingernail and evidence of strangulation, Suermann concluded, “I think she was probably hit multiple times and held down in some areas.”
Paige Painter, a clerk at the Mapco convenience store where Brittany went after she said she was attacked, described noticing red marks on Brittany’s neck and being warned she was in trouble. Before she left, Painter said, Brittany left a note on receipt paper stating that if she was dead in the morning, it was Todd Smith of Jasper, Tennessee, who had killed her. A forensic toxicologist testified that Todd had a “very high amount” of methamphetamine in his system the night he was killed. Another forensics specialist said the lab had released inaccurate results regarding Brittany’s fingernail scrapings. And in a 911 call played by the prosecution, Brittany could be heard frantically pleading with the operator for help after she shot Todd. “I don’t want this man to die. I don’t know what to do,” she yelled.
“She was justified in her actions,” argued Brittany’s court-appointed attorney, Ron Smith, at the hearing’s conclusion. “She believed that Todd was going to cause severe injury or death to herself and Chris.”
The hearing marked the latest development in a case, first chronicled by The Appeal in April last year, that has captured national attention.
The events, documented in police statements and text messages reviewed by The Appeal, began to unfold on the night of Jan. 15, 2018, when Brittany received a call from Todd asking her to pick him up from a park near the Alabama and Tennessee border where he said he was stranded. Todd was an acquaintance of Brittany’s and had recently sold her a puppy. It was snowing that evening, and so Chris drove her to pick up Todd and she agreed to let Todd stay on her couch in Stevenson, Alabama.
After arriving at her home, she and Todd began discussing their struggles with substance use. Brittany testified she told him she had been getting her life together and was working to get her four children back. Brittany said Todd became angry and accused her of thinking she was better than him. She ran into her bedroom and he followed, strangling her until she passed out, she said.
She testified that Todd raped her as she lay in a pool of her own urine. Todd threatened to kill her if she told anyone about what happened, she said. The pair struggled again and Brittany tried to scratch him in defense (autopsy photos reviewed during the hearing showed scratches on Todd’s body). Brittany said he raped her a second time. “I had to lay there and let him finish,” she testified.
Afterward, Todd acted as if nothing had happened, Brittany testified, and asked for a cigarette. Because she didn’t have a car, Chris came to pick them up and drove them to Mapco to buy cigarettes, where Brittany alerted Painter, the clerk, that she was in danger. She said she instructed Painter not to call the police because she feared that Todd would hurt her or Chris, who was sitting in the car with Todd. Once Chris dropped Brittany and Todd off at her house, Brittany told Chris to return to Mapco and talk to Painter.
After hearing that his sister was in danger, Chris returned to Brittany’s house with his pistol. According to Brittany, he entered her home, placed his pistol on the counter and told Todd to leave. Instead, Todd allegedly began to fight Chris and put him in the headlock that led to Brittany firing the pistol. According to a medical examiner’s report, Todd had bullet wounds in his arms, shoulders, ribs, and abdomen.
Alabama is one of 25 states that has a Stand Your Ground law that allows for the use of fatal force in situations where a person fears that they or another person are in danger of “unlawful physical force.”
The law applies in several circumstances, including when someone believes a person is using or about to use “unlawful or deadly force,” and during a burglary. Brittany’s attorney has cited both of these as justification for Todd’s death.
Pierce argued that Brittany’s case does not fall under Stand Your Ground because Chris was the initial aggressor. He also stated that the law does not apply because fists do not qualify as a weapon in Alabama. Stand Your Ground, however, does not specify the type of force that must be used by the attacker in order to qualify.
Pierce stated that there was no physical evidence that Chris was attacked, drawing on testimony from two investigators who interviewed him after the incident and based their judgments on observations during their interviews. No forensic medical examination was conducted on Chris following the alleged attack, and he did not testify during this week’s hearing.
The prosecution’s presentation offered few counterarguments to Brittany’s claim that she was acting in self-defense and instead leaned heavily on discrediting her account that she was raped. “No, he did not rape me,” Brittany told the 911 operator in the recording that was played. On a rape crisis center form, she marked “unsure” in the field asking if she was raped.
“You told me you had been raped but you told 911 you had not,” said Pierce. “Why would you answer ‘unsure’ if you had been raped?”
Brittany, who has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder from the attack, has said she didn’t remember the 911 call or filling out the form at the crisis center, which she credited to her condition.
In another exchange, Pierce questioned Brittany about the lack of weapons, such as a gun or knife, on Todd. “But he had his hands, his penis, his mouth,” she replied. “Did you see the 33 wounds on my body?”
Pierce also called a forensic biologist from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences who testified that Todd was not a match for the semen lifted from the scene. Todd, however, was a contributor to a swab of dried, unspecified secretions taken from Brittany’s body. The biologist, Angela Fletcher, said that the forensics department had previously made a mistake on a different report in her case, erroneously ruling that it observed no material in Brittany’s fingernail scrapings until an internal review found otherwise. Those scrapings have yet to be sent off for DNA testing.
After the hearing on Wednesday, Brittany, who has posted bail with her friends’ help, gathered with her supporters in the hallway outside the courtroom. “It’s heartbreaking, it’s my baby’s life,” said her mother, Ramona McCallie.
Since being charged with murder, Brittany has been unable to work and obtain custody of her children. Being out in public causes her anxiety; she fears who might be around. Last year, Judge Holt sent Brittany to Bryce Hospital, a psychiatric inpatient facility in Tuscaloosa, after she deemed her incompetent to stand trial. The stay was supposed to last 90 days; due to what Brittany says were backlogs in evaluations, she stayed there for seven months.
In a telephone call with The Appeal on Wednesday, Brittany talked about the devastation the case has brought to her family. ”I just really would like this to be over so I can be back on my feet and get my family back. My kids keep asking when they can come home. How am I supposed to explain this to them?”