A Florida woman accused of fatally shooting a neighbor after an argument with her children this month will not face a murder charge, a prosecutor said in a carefully worded letter Monday declaration explaining his reasoning in the disputed case.
The woman, Susan Louise Lorincz, 58, was instead charged with one count of manslaughter by firearm and one count of assault, said Bill Gladson, the state attorney for Florida’s Fifth Judicial Circuit. She could face a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
The family of the dead woman, Ajike Owens, 35, a mother of four, had asked for a murder charge, which would be punished with up to life in prison. But Mr Gladson said there was not enough evidence to prove the crime.
« I am aware of the desire of the family and some members of the community that the defendant be charged with second-degree murder, » he said in the statement. « However, I cannot allow any decision to be influenced by public opinion, angry phone calls or further threats of violence, as I have received in this case. »
Ms. Owens’ death on June 2 sparked outrage in her community in Ocala, Florida, and across the nation over how a trivial dispute had led to Ms. Lorincz using deadly force.
Ms Owens’ family was disappointed that a murder charge was not brought against Ms Lorincz, Anthony Thomas, one of the Owens family’s attorneys, said in an interview on Monday.
« The arrest affidavit looked like it all boiled down to a murder charge, » he said. « Even if she’s given 30, there’s a chance the kids would be alive to see her, which would just be a slap in the face. »
The June 2 confrontation came after a « neighborhood feud » between Ms. Lorincz and Ms. Owens over children, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
Prior to the shooting, Ms. Lorincz had become angry with Ms. Owens’ children, who were playing in a field near her home, according to the sheriff’s office. She began arguing with them, throwing a roller skate at the toe of Ms. Owens’ son and swinging an umbrella at her children, according to the sheriff’s office.
The children told their mother what had happened and she went to Ms Lorincz’s house, knocked on her door and asked her out, authorities said. They said Ms Lorincz fired a shot through the door, hitting Ms Owens in the upper chest. She was taken to hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
The sheriff’s office said Ms. Lorincz had claimed she acted in self-defense and that she believed Ms. Owens was trying to break down her door. But they said investigators were able to determine her actions were not legally justifiable.
Lawyers representing Ms Owens’ family also said in a declaration at the time witnesses heard Ms Lorincz use racial slurs as she yelled at Ms Owens’ children before the shooting. Ms. Lorincz, a white woman, admitted to using racial slurs against neighborhood children in the past, according to an arrest affidavit. Mrs Owens was black.
After calls from Ms. Owens’ family, friends and civil rights leaders to file murder charges against Ms. Lorincz, Mr. Gladson, the state’s attorney, said he had carefully examined the feasibility of the prosecution.
In an interview on Monday, Mr Gladson said he had given a public explanation for his decision because he believed it was « important to be transparent » and that it would be « helpful to explain the law as it applies to this particular set of facts. «
To prove second-degree murder, it must be proved « beyond and to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt » that the defendant was in a « depraved mind » at the time of the murder, Mr Gladson wrote in the explanation.
« The depraved mind requires evidence of hatred, spite, ill will or bad intentions towards the victim, » he added. « Given the facts in this case, pointing a firearm at the door and pulling the trigger is legally insufficient to prove a depraved mind. »
He continued, « The case law has consistently held that extreme recklessness or impulsive overreactions are, by themselves, insufficient to prove second-degree murder. »
Mr Thomas, the Owens family attorney, on the other hand, said there was evidence of a « depraved mind » in Ms Owens and Ms Lorinz’s relationship and the series of events leading up to the shooting.
Ms Lorincz’s attorney, Amanda Sizemore, declined to comment on the case on Monday.
Other day-to-day controversies have led to fatal shootings across the United States, sparking protests and widespread outrage, especially after victims were killed for making innocent mistakes: going to the wrong address, getting into the wrong car, or ringing the wrong bell .
Ms. Lorincz has been in the Marion County Jail since her arrest June 6 by the Sheriff’s Office on charges of manslaughter by firearm, manslaughter, battery and assault. The state attorney’s allegations mirror the initial allegations.
The case has also added to the controversy over legal protections for people who say they feared for their safety when they used deadly force.
Florida’s « stand your ground » law attracted wide scrutiny when police cited it as the reason they refused to arrest George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin. He was later charged, but his acquittal the following year resulted in nationwide demonstrations.
The sheriff’s office in Ms. Owens’ case said the law required investigators of her death to rule out « whether or not deadly force was warranted before making an arrest. » Ms. Owens’ family held a press conference on June 5 asking authorities to arrest the shooter.