Judge dismisses murder case
HUNTINGTON, WV -- An indictment charging a Huntington woman with murdering her daughter's abusive boyfriend was dismissed Friday after a judge ruled that Cabell County's prosecutor gave a grand jury an inappropriate definition of self defense.
The prosecutor, Chris Chiles, said Friday evening that he hadn't seen the order granting the motion to dismiss the case against Teresa Lynn Baker, who shot and killed Jeffrey Sadler, 25, at 156 Cedar Street on Feb. 4, 2008. She shot Sadler more than an hour after she had called 911 to report a physical domestic dispute between her daughter and Sadler. She was told officers were on their way.
According to 911 recordings, Baker was told during a second call that there were no units available to respond. The third 911 call about the incident came from a neighbor who heard gunshots and screaming coming from the Cedar Street residence. The fourth call was from Baker, who frantically said, "I just killed him ... I just shot Jeff Sadler."
Chiles has the option of presenting the case again to a grand jury, and he said Friday he will.
Chiles had sought a first-degree murder charge against Baker, who has cited self-defense against the man who abused her daughter in front of her grandchildren the night of the incident.
According to the court documents released Friday, signed by Circuit Court Judge Dan O'Hanlon, Chiles was shown to have the authorization from Judge Alfred Ferguson to instruct the grand jury on the law involved. But he did not cite the most recent case and opinion written by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 2009.
"When Mr. Chiles 'out of an abundance of caution' instructed the grand jury on self-defense, or defense of another, this Court finds that he failed to present the newer approach to this defense expounded by the Supreme Court of Appeals in State V. Harden," the document stated.
It goes on to say that the definition presented by Chiles is not in the West Virginia Code or in the grand jury handbook on elements of crime. "This Court ... finds that this newer approach to the defense of self allowing for the consideration of a history of abuse and/or threats should have been the approach presented to the grand jury."
Baker's attorney, Charlie Hatcher, who also has been a prosecutor in his 36-year career, said Chiles should have known better because the Tanya Harden case was tried by his office.
Harden had been sentenced to life in prison with mercy for fatally shooting her husband inside their Culloden home in September 2004, following a night of fighting, threats and abuse.
Last June, the Supreme Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and gave Harden an outright acquittal, thus changing the precedent for self-defense cases.
The new opinion removed the victim's duty to retreat a jointly-owned residence, and states prior violence is relevant in determining the person's state of mind when deciding to use deadly force. Prior case law required a belief that danger was imminent at the time deadly force was used.
"O'Hanlon told (Chiles) directly to consider that case in his next presentation (to the grand jury after the first case was dismissed)," Hatcher said.
In Chiles' written response to Hatcher's request for a dismissal of the charge against Baker, he stated grand jurors received ample evidence favorable to Baker's defense. That included past domestic violence petitions and prior violence, along with evidence from that night alleging the deceased had a knife and threatened "he was going to gut" Baker's daughter. The grand jury also received "what little evidence" prosecutors had in describing Baker's state of mind at the time of the killing.
Chiles stated State V. Harden is much different because it involved a wife who killed her abusive husband.
Because O'Hanlon's decision was to dismiss the case without prejudice, Chiles can re-present the matter to a grand jury.
Chiles also said the state is ready to try to the case on the previously-set trial date of Aug. 9, if the grand jury returns an indictment.
Hatcher said when contacted Friday he is sure Chiles will take it back to the grand jury. But he said he wants Chiles to present it right this time.
"The first time it was dismissed, (Chiles) was giving testimony," Hatcher said. "The second time, he wasn't giving proper law. In this case, in two separate incidents, her guaranteed Constitutional rights were violated by the prosecutor.
"Do I win? Heck, no," Hatcher continued. "I could indict my 91-year-old mother at a grand jury. Did I really win? No. He'll indict her. Hopefully, it will be fair."