‘He snapped’: Prosecutor argues against self-defense claim in Columbus killing
Eddie Clayton had no choice but to shoot Robert Lockhart four times during a fight over cigarettes, his defense attorney said Tuesday during closing arguments in Clayton’s murder trial.
The shooting occurred during a July 22, 2017, party at Clayton’s home on Grant Road.
After Lockhart attacked Clayton first, hitting him in the back of the head before other guests broke up the fight, Clayton had reason to fear the much larger man would cause him serious injury, and that’s why he got a firearm to defend himself, said attorney William Kendrick, who with law partner Mark Shelnutt represents Clayton.
When Clayton returned to the kitchen where the fight started, he racked the slide on his 9-millimeter semi-automatic, and Lockhart came at him again, and continued to attack Clayton even after Clayton shot him in the leg, Kendrick said.
Struggling, the two fell to the kitchen floor, with Lockhart atop Clayton, beating him, and Clayton had to get the pistol over Lockhart’s shoulder and shoot down into his back to stop the attack, Kendrick said.
But he fired no more than he had to, to make Lockhart stop, and that left six rounds in a gun that held 13, the attorney said, citing that as evidence Clayton didn’t intend to kill Lockhart.
“Once Mr. Lockhart stopped beating on him, he stopped shooting,” Kendrick said, later asking jurors, “What could Eddie have done differently?”
He could have let Lockhart leave after the first fight, said prosecutor Mark Anthony, noting Clayton did not have to get a gun to defend himself, because Lockhart already was on his way out the door.
“The evidence has shown Robert Lockhart was leaving,” Anthony noted.
Clayton’s claim of self-defense isn’t credible, because to claim that under Georgia law, Clayton had to “reasonably believe” he was in fear of death or great bodily harm, or that he had to use deadly force to prevent a “forcible felony,” Anthony said: Clayton “reasonably” could not have believed either once the first fight was over.
On the day of the shooting, Clayton was hosting a birthday party for his girlfriend Ardella McKinley’s brother, Mario McKinley. The McKinleys are siblings to Lyzenzia Lockhart, Robert Lockhart’s wife. All of them were at Clayton’s home, along with a third man who lived with Clayton, and three children, two of them the Lockharts’ daughters, then ages 11 and 8.
Around midnight, the men went to a nearby store to buy alcohol and other supplies. That’s where Clayton and Lockhart chipped in together on a pack of cigarettes, and Lockhart gave some to a woman he saw at the store. Clayton criticized him for that, and the ensuing argument is what led Lockhart to assault him later in his kitchen, attorneys said.
Clayton was charged with:
- Malice or intentional murder
- Felony murder for killing Lockhart while committing felony aggravated assault
- Aggravated assault
- Using a gun to commit a felony
“I want you to know that self-defense covers all four of those charges,” Kendrick told jurors Tuesday. And that shifts the burden of proof, he added.
“The state has to disprove he acted in self-defense.”
Anthony countered that the facts speak for themselves: “It just defies common sense that this defendant was defending himself in this situation.”
Clayton didn’t shoot Lockhart to prevent a “forcible felony,” because no felony was imminent, the prosecutor added, noting a detective’s testimony that Lockhart’s assault on Clayton amounted to no more than misdemeanor battery, not a felony such as aggravated assault.
“What is he talking about?” Anthony asked of Kendrick’s self-defense argument. “On what grounds is he saying that?’
No one disputes how the fight started, the prosecutor said, “The victim was the initial aggressor in terms of the fistfight.” But that altercation ended as soon as others broke it up.
“The fight is over at that point,” Anthony said.
Yet that’s when Clayton chose to get a firearm and shoot Lockhart, Anthony said.
With closing arguments concluded, the jury now has to decide on Clayton’s guilt or innocence. If convicted of murder, Clayton, now 36, could face life in prison.