Men Charged With Murdering Toddler Claim 'Stand Your Ground' Defense
Birmingham, AL – Three men who are charged with capital murder in the shooting death of a two-year-old boy have said they should not be prosecuted because they were acting on Alabama’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
The incident occurred near the city’s Avondale district at about 11:40 p.m. on Aug. 5, 2017, when a gunfight broke out between the occupants of two vehicles, WBMA reported.
Two-year-old Ron’Narius “Duke” Austin was riding in the backseat of a white Lincoln in an alley in the 4200-block of Fourth Avenue South when he was struck by gunfire.
His parents were also in the vehicle, and his mother was shot in the arm, according WBMA.
The defendants in the case – 22-year-old D'Marco Harris, 19-year-old Tyrone Smith, and 21-year-old Mykhal Harris – were all indicted by a grand jury, and pleaded not guilty to five counts of capital and attempted murder, WBMA reported.
D’Marco and Mykhal Harris are cousins.
Initially, the three men tried to invoke youthful offender status in their cases. Youthful offender status would seal the defendants’ court records and possibly result in a lighter sentence for their crimes.
However, the judge denied all three their status request after prosecutors showed that all three of the defendants had a lengthy history of arrests, according to WBMA.
Now all three men have petitioned the court seeking to invoke the state’s “Stand Your Ground” statute that was made into law in 2006.
WBMA reported that D'Marco Harris testified that he saw multiple people in a white Lincoln the night of the shooting.
He told the court somebody in the Lincoln began shooting at him and his friends.
D’Marco Harris said that it was only after the people in the Lincoln shot at them that he reached into his car for his own weapon and fired back, according to WBMA.
He testified that he fired his weapon in an effort to save his own life.
Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper said that people in both vehicles fired guns the night the toddler was fatally shot.
"We believe an individual from each vehicle fired a weapon. We recovered a firearm from both vehicles," Chief Roper told WBMA.
The three defendants gave three hours of testimony on Monday to bolster their claims they had been defending themselves when the two-year-old boy was shot, WBMA reported.
D’Marco Harris testified that they had no idea there was a baby in the car that was shooting at him and his friends.
Alabama’s “Stand Your Ground” law says a person invoking the statute cannot be the original aggressor and must have a justifiable reason for using force. The law doesn't require a person to retreat from danger, according to AL.com.
Prior to 2006, the law said the self-defense justification only worked if a person was in his home or business when they were attacked.
A fourth defendant, 22-year-old Joshua Carpenter, did not join in the quest for youthful offender status, nor has he tried to invoke “Stand Your Ground,” WTVM reported.
Carpenter’s attorney said his client was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the shooting occurred, but Carpenter has been charged with the same crimes as the other three defendants.
D'Marco Harris, Tyrone Smith, and Mykhal Harris are due back in court on Wednesday.