CHARLESTON, W. Va. -- A state Supreme Court ruling last year may have helped a jury decide to acquit a Lincoln County man last week, a lawyer for the man said.
Stephen Willis, 59, was charged with killing his nephew and attempting to kill another man near his Sias home in 2008. On Wednesday a jury found he acted in self-defense.
Prosecutors were not able to prove that Willis didn't act in self-defense. Willis' lawyer Danny Corey said he found a state Supreme Court ruling last year that helped the jury make its decision to acquit Willis.
In that case, Tanya Harden shot her husband in September 2004 after he had been abusing her. Harden's husband, who had been drinking heavily, beat her with the butt of a shotgun, and sexually assaulted her, according to the case.
Harden's husband also threatened to kill her and her children several times.
The prosecution then "... conceded that the defendant suffered a 'night of domestic terror,'" according to the case. The ruling made previous threats relevant for a self-defense instruction in other cases.
Willis' nephew, Stephen Linville, 35, had been threatening his uncle for weeks over an inheritance dispute, Corey said. Linville, who lived on a tract of land that Willis inherited from a will, apparently felt that the land should have gone to him.
Willis evicted his nephew and another man, a friend of Linville's, because of the threats, Corey said.
Weeks later, Willis was exercising on the road next to his home when Linville and another man pulled up in a truck. Linville got out of the truck and started choking his uncle from behind, according to Corey.
While he was still being choked, Willis managed to turn and face Linville, pull out a .38-caliber revolver he had holstered in the front pocket of his jeans and reach around and shoot Linville twice in the lower back, eventually killing him, Corey said.
After the second shot, Ronnie Wade, who was riding in the truck with Linville, got out and hit Willis in the back of the head with "a heavy object" according to Corey.
Wade testified that he pushed Willis off of Linville, but did not admit to hitting him in the back of the head.
Willis turned around and shot Wade in the chest. Wade ran away and hid in a ditch. Willis ran to a nearby house to call the police, Corey said.
"Call 911 - I just shot two boys who jumped me," Willis said to the neighbor, according to Corey's account.
According to Corey, Linville had been threatening to kill Willis over the land dispute. Because of this, Willis was justified in feeling threatened.