That’s the pronouncement of Conway attorney Morgan Martin as he responds to two recent court actions in the case of Conwayite Heather Sims, who was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in connection with the shooting death of her husband.
In an order clocked into the Horry County Clerk of Court’s Office this past week, the S.C. Supreme Court says it won’t hear an appeal of a second finding by the S.C. Court of Appeals that Judge J. Cordell Maddox Jr. erred when he allowed the jury in this case to consider a verdict of voluntary manslaughter.
In its opinion that voluntary manslaughter was not the right charge for Ms. Sims, the Court of Appeals found twice that the defendant’s actions did not show any signs of acting in the heat of passion.
“The sudden heat of passion need not dethrone reasons entirely or shut out knowledge and volition, but it must be such as would naturally disturb the sway of reason and render the mind of an ordinary person incapable of cool reflection and produce what may be called an uncontrollable impulse to do violence,” the court opinion says, quoting a previous S.C. Supreme Court ruling.
The S.C. Court of Appeals first made that ruling in February. The S.C. Attorney General’s Office then asked the court to reconsider. In an opinion released this past week, the court stood by its earlier ruling.
Sims has been out of jail and back living at home near Conway since shortly after the first Appeals Court’s ruling. She had been in state prisons for a little less than four years.
“The criminal prosecution is over and she has been acquitted of all charges,” Martin said.
He expects her charges to eventually be expunged and for her to be able to revive her nurse anesthetist license.
“Heather is a wonderful and gifted person, and I think certainly she should return to the practice of nursing, which she loved very much and certainly to being a mother for her child. It’s been a difficult journey, but it’s one that has ended with her having the ability to get her life back and I’m glad that she has that opportunity,” her attorney said.
He said he thinks it’s sad that she served time in jail on an erroneous conviction, “…but I think it’s just a product of our legal system and you hope that it doesn’t happen again.”
Sims was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 25 years in jail, reduced to 10 years in jail and five years probation.
The jury was also given the options of finding her guilty of murder or involuntary manslaughter or of ruling in the 2015 trial that the shooting was self-defense.
Because the jury found her not guilty of murder and involuntary manslaughter, she cannot be tried again on these charges.
“I think it’s a just and fair outcome at the end of the day. I think it’s been clear throughout that she acted in self defense and, accordingly, should not have been convicted of murder or manslaughter,” Martin said.
Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson says the ruling has somewhat confused him because he’s seen a court rule differently in another case where the question of charging voluntary manslaughter as a lesser charge for murder ended with a different finding.
But, he says, a very competent judge heard Sims’ case.
”It’s just up in the air; nobody knows when to charge manslaughter as a lesser charge of murder,” he said.
“I don’t think this fixes anything,” Richardson said of the recent rulings.
“…I’m proud of the job that we did. I don’t know that there’s another way we could have done it. I’m proud of what we did. I hate it for the victim’s family, but there’s another recourse and that is civil,” he said.
If the statute of limitations has not run out, David Sims’ representative can bring a civil suit against Heather Sims, he said.
As far as Sims serving almost four years in jail on an erroneous conviction, Richardson said, “It won’t be enough for a murder or manslaughter, but the court has intervened and said it wasn’t murder or manslaughter…”
At the time of trial, defense attorneys argued more than once that neither voluntary nor involuntary manslaughter should be charged, but Maddox responded that in his mind it was appropriate.
The court’s ruling says that it is possible that the jury thought it was finding a lesser charge than murder, but a more serious one than involuntary manslaughter.
The justices pointed out that the jury marked not guilty on its verdict form for murder and involuntary manslaughter, so they opined that she cannot be tried again on either of those charges because that would violate this country’s laws against Double Jeopardy, or being tried twice for the same crime.
The nurse anesthetist worked in prison as a teacher’s aide, and had no recorded disciplinary actions, according to state prison records.
Martin said previously that he argued against the charges of manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter fearing that the jury would select one of them as a compromise verdict.
According to the Court opinion, the State argued that Sims planned to kill her husband David to get his $750,000 life insurance policy that she had earlier encouraged him to buy.
She testified that she shot him on Aug. 11, 2013, in their bathroom where he had come with several tools to work on the toilet and she was preparing to bathe. She said he charged her with a knife, they struggled and she shot him as she began to back out of the bathroom. Testimony showed that she had three cuts. He was shot once in the chest.
As soon as she shot him, she testified that she began administering CPR, but by the time medical workers arrived he was dead.
The medical workers waited near the house, but didn't go in until police arrived which, according to the opinion, took about 20 minutes.
One issue that remains to be settled is who will get the proceeds of the insurance policy. Martin said the money was deposited with a federal court and no decision has been made yet about how the money will be disbursed.
The S.C. Attorney General’s Office chose not to comment on the case at this point.