ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) - A Limestone County murder case will soon be headed back to court. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned the 2012 conviction of Keith George. George was sentenced to 50 years in prison after being convicted of shooting his nephew to death in 2009. But the appellate court says there was a critical error made during George's first trial, and now he'll get another one.
Athens attorney Michael Sizemore handled the appeal for Keith George. He says the trial court made a simple but critical error. In reading the charges and instructions to the jury before they began their deliberations, the judge failed to explain the current law regarding self-defense.
"The jury was charged on the old, antiquated 2006 version of the law," Sizemore explained to WHNT News 19.
In June, 2006, the Alabama State Legislature changed the law removing the language that said, in effect, a person must at least attempt to retreat before using lethal force in self-defense. But the jury wasn't given that information as the law was explained to them, and that may have influenced their verdict against George, who claimed his nephew, Russell George, was beating him with a stick when he says he fired in self-defense.
Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones says they will schedule another trial for George.
For now, George remains in the Limestone Correctional Facility. But a motion has been filed that would move him back to the county jail and allow him to be released on bond pending his next trial.
Quoted from the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals: Keith Daniel George v. State of Alabama, CR-12-0642
When it instructed the jury on self-defense, the trial court stated, in relevant part:
"The defendant is not justified in using deadly physical force upon another person and cannot prevail on the issue of self-defense if it reasonably appears or the defendant knows that he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating."
After the trial court completed its oral charge, the following occurred:
"THE COURT: I understand. Any exception by the defense?
"[Defense counsel]: Yes, your Honor. I have an exception to the last phrase under the self-defense where it said he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating. Your Honor, I believe I'm correct on this, that the Code was corrected, amended June 1, 2006, that removed the duty to retreat and which allows an individual to stand one's ground.
"THE COURT: Do you all know anything about that?
"[State's attorney]:The statute as amended in 2006 permits you stand your ground if you're in a place that you have a lawful...
"THE COURT: Isn't it a dwelling house?
"[State's attorney]: Yes, lawful place. I mean, they're just in a lot. Neither of them have any ownership of the lot. He's just on a property, doesn't own it.
"THE COURT: I think that's an appropriate charge we gave. I understand.
"[Defense counsel]: Okay.
"THE COURT: All right, sir."
On appeal, Keith reiterates his argument that the trial court failed to instruct the jury on self-defense in accordance with § 13A-3-23, Ala.Code 1975; Keith asserts that the trial court's instructions were founded on a prior version of the statute and that the instructions misstated the current law of self-defense. Keith argues that his conviction is therefore due to be reversed. We agree.