The S.C. Court of Appeals has unanimously upheld the Stand Your Ground ruling in the death of a former Conway High School football standout.
In June of 2016, M’Andre Racquel Cochran stabbed Emmit Kelly in a residence on Old Pee Dee Road in Hemingway in Georgetown County.
In 2018, Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Culbertson ruled that Cochran was justified in defending himself and his estranged wife, who had been having relations with Kelly for about one month before Cochran came into the house, found his children gone and a man in bed with his wife.
After he saw a strange car outside of their mobile home and the front door of the house open, Cochran said he went into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and headed to the bedroom. When he went into the bedroom, Kelly jumped up and asked Cochran who he was. Cochran responded by asking Kell the same question.
There was testimony in the Stand Your Ground hearing that Kelly swung at Cochran, Cochran stabbed Kelly who then jumped out of the window and bled to death.
At the time, this was the 15th Circuit’s only successful Stand Your Ground proceeding.
Recently the S.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, affirmed Culbertson’s ruling.
The three justices who decided the case – Aphrodite Konduros, John Geathers and Stephanie P. McDonald – opined that there are four elements that someone must prove to be successful in a Stand Your Ground effort.
They are: “The defendant was without fault in bringing on the difficulty; (2) The defendant…actually believed he was in imminent danger of losing his life or sustaining serious bodily injury, or he actually was in such imminent danger; (3) If the defense is based upon the defendant’s actual belief of imminent danger, a reasonable prudent man of ordinary firmness and courage would have entertained the same belief…; and (4) The defendant had no other probable means of avoiding the danger of losing his own life or sustaining serious bodily injury than to act as he did in this particular instance.”
Although the first action was handled by the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, the appeal was turned over to the S.C. Attorney General’s Office whose spokesperson Robert Kittle said his office will file a petition for rehearing no later than Thursday morning. If that’s unsuccessful, they have 30 days to appeal the denial of the petition.
According to 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson, it is possible for the Attorney General’s Office to appeal the ruling to the S.C. Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court finds in Cochran’s favor at the circuit and appeals levels, the case is over, but depending on how the court rules there are two possible actions that can be taken. There could be a second Stand Your Ground hearing or Cochran could be taken before a jury and tried.
Richardson said, “I’m aware of the Court of Appeals decision. I’m unaware of whether or not the Attorney General’s Office plans to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court, but I would hope that they would.”
Myrtle Beach attorney Francis Humphries Jr., who defended Cochran in the Stand Your Ground hearing, did not continue on the case to the Court of Appeals level, but turned it over to the S.C. Commission of Appellate Defense.
Humphries recalls there was no record to establish anything other than what his client said was what happened. He recalled testimony about Cochran coming home, seeing a strange car, a dark house and a door ajar.
“Unfortunately, the victim was guilty of sleeping with another man’s wife and being in the home when the husband came home unexpectedly. Is that worthy of the death penalty? No,” he said.
From his client’s perspective, he wasn’t engaged in an altercation with someone who was sleeping with his wife.
“…it’s tragic all the way around,” Humphries said, emphasizing that his client thought he was dealing with an intruder who might kill or injure his wife.
The trial testimony
M’Andre Cochran was working long overtime hours on the night that Emmit died. He grew tired and decided to leave, which he said was fine, but his supervisor Morgan Brunson testified in the first proceeding that Cochran was given a warning for not notifying him when he left.
Still he described Cochran as a “good hard worker.”
Cochran testified that he didn’t know that his children were not home that night. He said when he got there, he saw a car that he didn’t recognize parked in front of the mobile home where he and his wife lived. He also testified that he had spent the two nights before the killing at home with his wife, and he spent most nights there, but he described the couple’s situation at that time as separated.
His wife Casandra Cochran also testified that they were separated at the time of the killing and that she was seeing other men and he was seeing other women.
She said she worked with Kelly and had been involved with him for about one month. She said the two talked about his coming over when he left work. She testified that she told Kelly she planned to go home, have a drink, take a Tylenol PM and go to sleep. She planned to leave the door open so Kelly could get in. She was awakened sometime after 5 a.m. when Kelly told her there was someone at the door.
She said Kelly got up, Cochran came into the room and the two men started swinging. She was trying to break it up when Kelly said he had either been shot or stabbed and he jumped out of the window.
Cochran testified that when he went into the bedroom where Kelly jumped from the bed, the room was dark so he couldn’t see if the man he thought was an intruder had a weapon. He said Kelly was the taller of the two men, that he jumped out of the bed and about two seconds later swung at him.
“We had a scuffle and everything and then he jumped through the window, then I dropped, dropped the knife,” he said.
When prosecutor Richard D. Todd Jr. with the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office asked if he had stabbed him, he answered, “I guess so.”
When asked if he stabbed him more than once, he said he couldn’t recall.
But later, in response to a question from Humphries, he said he didn’t know that he had stabbed Kelly.
Michael Thacker, a crime scene investigator with the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office, testified that Kelly had two significant cuts in his chest, an injury on his scalp, a large wound on his right thumb area and several smaller cuts on his hands, fingers, face and torso.
Cochran had no significant wounds, according to Thacker.