Lancaster suspect admits killing former MLB player Clyburn; claims self-defense

Herald columnistMarch 21, 2013 

— A lifelong friend of slain former Major League Baseball player Danny Clyburn Jr. confessed in court Thursday to shooting him last year after an argument, but that he did so in self-defense.

The attorney for Derrick McIlwain, 37, said his client was fearful for his life and had legal grounds to shoot Clyburn under a new state “stand your ground” because Clyburn was bigger and he was “high and drunk.”

Circuit Court Judge Brooks Goldsmith denied Derrick McIlwain’s attempt to get “immunity” from prosecution for murder.

Clyburn, 37, had been out of baseball for several years after a brief Major League career with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles and more than 10 years in the minor leagues. He lived in California but had come home to see his two children, father and sister a few days before he was killed Feb. 7, 2012.

McIlwain had no permanent address, no job and several criminal convictions. Testimony from his sister showed that McIlwain would stay with different relatives at different times.

And despite the fact that McIlwain did not live in the house where the shooting took place, his lawyer, Lancaster County assistant public defender William Frick, claimed that the recent “castle doctrine” law means McIlwain had no duty to retreat from Clyburn.

“He can do what he deems necessary to alleviate the threat,” Frick argued.

Testimony Thursday showed, with dizzying clarity, what was deemed necessary by McIlwain was to shoot Clyburn once in the heart after an argument.

Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield argued that McIlwain did not have any cause to shoot Clyburn, as there was no physical altercation before the shooting, except a single push that drew no marks. Clyburn was unarmed.

“He just pulled out his gun and shoots him,” Barfield said of McIlwain.

McIlwain would face 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder. Prosecutors have offered a plea deal to a lesser charge – voluntary manslaughter, which is often called a heat of passion killing – which carries up to 30 years in prison.

Testimony showed McIlwain and Clyburn had argued many times over the years when Clyburn came home to visit, including the night Clyburn was shot. A neighbor testified that McIlwain told her not to call police or an ambulance after the shooting, then fled the scene.

McIlwain later turned himself in and confessed to the shooting. He has been in jail ever since.

Now, 13 months later, McIlwain claimed in court that Clyburn scared and threatened him. Clyburn was “muscle” versus his own “fat,” McIlwain testified. Clyburn “bullied” him many times over the years, McIlwain said, and the shooting “was not intentional.”

Clyburn was 6 feet 2 inches tall and 225 pounds. McIlwain is 5 feet 11 inches tall and 215 pounds.

McIlwain claimed that Clyburn demanded he go get more alcohol, he refused, and that’s when he told Clyburn he “didn’t do anything for people in the ‘hood” after years in professional sports.

McIlwain testified he was pushed by Clyburn onto a small loveseat in the tiny home then arose and said, “Go ahead,” but that he meant for Clyburn to leave.

Prosecutors argued that could be interpreted as a challenge to fight.

McIlwain claimed Clyburn was threatening him.

“I went in my pocket and pulled out my gun and shot him,” McIlwain said. “I was scared.”

Judge Goldsmith ruled McIlwain did not show there was an attack by Clyburn or that he had to shoot Clyburn to prevent great bodily harm.

Frick said McIlwain would immediately appeal the ruling because the “immunity” law is new and untested. The appeal could stall a trial or even a potential plea deal for months or years as higher courts review Goldsmith’s decision.

Frick then asked Goldsmith to set a bond for McIlwain, saying he had been in jail a year and was not a flight risk or a danger to the community.

Barfield asked Goldsmith to keep McIlwain locked up without bond, but the judge set bond for McIlwain at $100,000. Late Thursday, McIlwain remained in jail.

Throughout Thursday’s hearing, Danny Clyburn Sr., the ballplayer’s father, sat alone and silent in the courtroom. But he did address the court about bond, saying McIlwain “didn’t have a good reason to kill” his son.

Clyburn said he based that on the testimony of Demario Buchanan, who lived across the street from where the shooting happened and had been drinking with both McIlwain and Clyburn earlier on the night of the shooting.

“I got on my knees and I told him help was on the way but man he was taking his last breath,” Buchanan said. “I tried to tell him everything was gonna be OK. He was just looking. He was gasping for air.”

An eyewitness to the crime also testified that McIlwain shot Clyburn after an argument at the small house that served as a man’s retreat for drinking, watching sports and trash-talking among longtime friends and cousins.

McIlwain “pulled out his pistol and shot him,” Tyrone Wilson testified. Clyburn then went outside, took off his jacket and collapsed in the dirt.

All it took was one bullet from a tiny .25-caliber gun held by a so-called friend who claimed to be scared for a big former Major League ballplayer to die.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

The Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service