Andrew Dys

August 24, 2013

SC 'stand your ground' ruling sets stage for Lancaster murder trial

One-time major leaguer Danny Clyburn Jr. was shot and killed in 2012 by a lifelong acquaintance who claimed in court that he shot Clyburn in self-defense.

A state Supreme Court ruling this week on South Carolina’s Stand Your Ground law likely means that the trial of the man charged with killing former Major League Baseball player Danny Clyburn Jr. of Lancaster can be scheduled soon, lawyers involved in the case say.

“I sure hope this means the man who killed Danny has to face what he did,” said Latonia Samuel, Clyburn’s ex-wife and mother of his two children.

The Supreme Court ruled that someone who kills or wounds another and invokes the Stand Your Ground law to get immunity and avoid prosecution can’t delay his trial by an appeal.

The law is similar to the Florida law that came under national scrutiny when George Zimmerman claimed self-defense after he shot and killed teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was acquitted, but the case sparked a national uproar over what rights people should have to shoot someone else.

That national debate includes the Clyburn killing. And of the nine South Carolina cases in appeal that now seem headed for court, Clyburn’s death is by far the most well known because he played in the major leagues.

Clyburn, 37, who played with the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, died in February 2012 when lifelong acquaintance and distant cousin Derrick McIlwain shot him after an argument at a clubhouse in Lancaster.

In a March immunity hearing, McIlwain claimed self-defense, saying he should not stand trial for murder under the state’s “castle doctrine,” commonly called the Stand Your Ground law.

Clyburn had come back to Lancaster from his home in California to visit family last year when he was killed while hanging out with boyhood friends at a tiny home used as a men’s clubhouse for drinking and watching sports.

McIlwain, a convicted felon who grew up on the same street as Clyburn, was upset that Clyburn didn’t give back enough to people in the “ ’hood,” Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield has said in court, so he “just pulled out a gun and shot” Clyburn.

In admitting to shooting Clyburn, McIlwain alleged that Clyburn, a far larger man and former professional athlete, was “high and drunk.”

Prosecutors scoffed at McIlwain’s claims, and a judge ruled McIlwain had not shown he had no choice but to shoot Clyburn.

Although the Supreme Court ruling does not address the Clyburn case specifically, it is expected that all the South Carolina appeals cases will now be sent back to trial courts after official dismissal of the appeals.

Of the nine cases, two involve killings in Lancaster County and one in Chester County.

All three of the area defendants claimed the Stand Your Ground law meant that each had a right to use deadly force to protect themselves. Judges in all three cases ruled against the accused.

This week’s ruling almost certainly means prosecutors can now move ahead in the Chester and Lancaster murder cases, Barfield said.

“Until this ruling, our hands were tied by these appeals,” he said, “but it appears we now will have that chance to move forward.”

Mike Lifsey, the Sixth Circuit chief public defender, agreed that the appeals of the three pending cases his office is handling are likely over, and prosecutors soon will be able to set trial dates.

Lifsey represents Anthony O’Brian Isom, a Chester man accused of killing his cousin. The two cousins got into a fight that prosecutors have said in court ended when Isom beat his cousin to death.

Assistant public defender William Frick represents two of the accused killers, including McIlwain.

“Bad cases make bad laws,” Frick said, “and in South Carolina this was a bad case and we had a bad result.”

But prosecutors say the Supreme Court ruling now means that defendants accused of anything from assault up to murder can no longer hold up trials claiming immunity, said Willy Thompson, assistant 16th Circuit solicitor.

In recent months, one stabbing trial was halted mid-trial when the defendant claimed Stand Your Ground. Two others cases, including a shooting death at a Rock Hill nightclub, only went forward because of plea deals after Stand Your Ground threatened to grind the process to a halt.

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