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Judge Denies ‘Stand Your Ground’ Defense For Alabama Woman Who Killed Her Alleged Rapist

Brittany Smith will most likely go to trial, where she faces up to a life sentence.

Brittany Smith in an undated family photoPhoto by Ramona McCallie. Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown.

A judge has denied an Alabama woman’s claim that she acted in self-defense under the state’s Stand Your Ground law when she killed a man in her home in January 2018. Now, Brittany Smith will most likely go to trial. If convicted, she faces up to a life sentence. 

In a 19-page order, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Holt wrote on Monday that Brittany,  who was charged with first-degree murder for killing an acquaintance, Joshua “Todd” Smith, “did not credibly demonstrate that she reasonably believed it was necessary for her to use deadly force in this situation.” 

The decision came after Brittany testified in an emotional hearing last month that Todd raped her, threatened to kill her and her family, and “was fixing to kill my brother,” Chris McCallie, by choking him in a headlock. Jackson County District Attorney Jason Pierce, who has fought for two years to win a murder conviction, argued that Todd was the victim and not a threat to Brittany and Chris. 

A favorable decision for Brittany would have resulted in immunity from prosecution. 

Brittany’s mother, Ramona McCallie, told The Appeal on Tuesday that she wasn’t surprised by Holt’s decision. “We all know that the Stand Your Ground law wasn’t created for women,” she said. “We’re disappointed, but not defeated. Just have to keep fighting another day.”

In her decision, Holt found that although the 33 wounds reviewed by a rape crisis center nurse in the courtroom were “consistent with physical assault,” Brittany had “many opportunities to seek protection from Todd” if she was in fear for her life. Holt also wrote that Brittany had trapped Todd in the kitchen by standing between him and the door, and he had no way to escape. “The defendant was armed with a revolver and Todd was unarmed,” she wrote.

Brittany testified that she had agreed to let Todd sleep on her couch in Stevenson, Alabama, after he told her he was stranded in a snowy park. They were engaged in conversation before he suddenly turned violent, she said. Chris then came to her defense, after learning Todd had raped her, she said. When she ran into the kitchen, she testified that she saw Chris losing in a fight against Todd and it appeared as if he were struggling to breathe. Brittany then gave Todd a warning before firing at him, she said.

Alabama’s Stand Your Ground law is broad and applies in several circumstances, such as when someone believes a person is using or about to use “unlawful or deadly force,” and during a burglary. Brittany’s attorneys have cited both of these as justification for Todd’s death. 

But Holt said there was no evidence that Todd attacked Chris, referring to testimony from the case’s lead police investigator who said he did not observe any injuries on Chris during an interview with him on the night of the shooting. No forensic medical examination was ever performed to screen for injuries. 

Holt added that Brittany’s statements to police investigators did not include that she told Todd to leave her home so he was staying there “by permission.” This, Holt said, meant that Todd’s presence did not meet the criteria for burglary, which in Alabama includes staying on someone’s property without their permission.

Holt also noted “inconsistent” accounts of the events surrounding Todd’s death, citing a 911 call in which Brittany said she was not raped and her initial claim that Chris was the shooter. During last month’s hearing, Brittany explained that those statements were a result of post-traumatic stress disorder and a mistaken decision to put the blame on Chris. That decision, however, had given her time to be examined by a rape crisis center nurse, she said. 

A forensics analyst found that Todd was not a contributor to the semen samples taken from Brittany’s bed but was a contributor to a dried, unspecified secretion swabbed from her body. 

In her order, Holt cited the lack of semen evidence supporting Brittany’s story that she was raped—a common occurrence in sexual assault cases—but did not address evidence that Todd had secreted on her body. 

Brittany’s attorney, Ron Smith, told The Appeal in an email that he plans to take the decision to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Depending on the outcome, that decision can also be appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. 

If an appeal is unsuccessful, Brittany will most likely go to trial, where a jury can consider whether she acted in self-defense.