Crime

A Columbus man fatally shot a party guest four times, but was it self-defense?

‘I still hear it’: Widow recalls night her husband was shot

Lyzenzia Lockhart testified in the trial of Eddie Clayton who is accused of murdering her husband, Robert Lockhart. Clayton is charged with murder, among other things regarding the 2017 shooting.
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Lyzenzia Lockhart testified in the trial of Eddie Clayton who is accused of murdering her husband, Robert Lockhart. Clayton is charged with murder, among other things regarding the 2017 shooting.

Robert Lockhart started the fight that ultimately led to his death, and Eddie Clayton is the man who fatally shot him.

On that, prosecutors and defense attorneys agree: Lockhart and Clayton got into an argument during a party Clayton hosted July 22, 2017, at his 2843 Grant Road home, and that dispute led Lockhart to attack Clayton, who afterward got a 9 millimeter pistol and shot Lockhart — first in the leg, and later three more times, with one bullet fatally wounding Lockhart in the back.

But whether Clayton committed murder, or acted in self-defense, is a matter of dispute, and that is what a Columbus jury will have to decide this week as Clayton goes to trial on five felony counts including murder, aggravated assault and using a firearm to commit a crime.

During opening statements Tuesday, neither prosecutor Mark Anthony nor defense attorney Mark Shelnutt said why the two men were arguing, but while testifying during his 2017 preliminary hearing in Columbus Recorder’s Court, Clayton said they were fighting over cigarettes.

The party

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.

The cookout started early in the day, with the Lockharts arriving later that evening, Anthony told jurors Tuesday. Around midnight, the men went to a nearby Spectrum store to buy more alcohol and other supplies, the prosecutor said.

In his 2017 Recorder’s Court testimony, Clayton testified that he and Lockhart bought a pack of cigarettes together, 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, Clayton said.

Shelnutt, who is representing Clayton with law partner William Kendrick, told jurors Tuesday that they will hear Clayton’s account of what happened when he testifies this week: “He’s going to tell you exactly what happened.”

According to Anthony, Clayton and Lockhart kept arguing after they returned to Clayton’s home, where they were outside on a patio before Clayton went back in.

Lockhart soon entered and attacked Clayton in the kitchen, the prosecutor said.

Mario McKinley broke up the fight, and Clayton then went to his bedroom, got a 9mm pistol, came back out and confronted Lockhart in the kitchen.

In Recorder's Court Tuesday, Eddie Clayton, 34, claimed self-defense as he described the altercation with Robert Lockhart during a weekend party at his Grant Avenue home. Clayton faces murder and firearm charges, and was not granted bond

The second fight

Lockhart was leaving, until he saw the gun, Anthony said: Instead he turned back on Clayton and asked, “What are you going to do, shoot me now?”

Anthony said Clayton shot Lockhart in the leg, and Lockhart jumped him again.

Shelnutt said Lockhart attacked Clayton first, and then Clayton wounded him in the leg, before they began fighting on the floor, with Clayton firing more rounds.

Police later found Clayton’s bullets hit two kitchen freezers, a light fixture and a door frame. Three of them also hit Lockhart, who nevertheless was able to stand up as the fighting stopped and walk outside with his wife.

She drove him to St. Francis Hospital, where the emergency room staff sent him by ambulance to The Midtown Medical Center, now called Piedmont Columbus Regional.

He died en route. He was 32.

The widow

Among the first witnesses Tuesday was Lyzenzia Lockhart.

She said she was in a back bedroom with the three children when she heard loud voices in Clayton’s kitchen, walked in and saw her husband and Clayton fighting, before her brother broke it up.

Clayton left the room, came back with the pistol, and racked the slide on the semi-automatic, chambering a round, she said, adding her husband was on the way out the back door when he heard that sound, turned around and said, “What, are you going to shoot me now?”

Clayton shot him in the leg, and both Lockhart and her brother charged at him, trying to take the gun away, she said. Lockhart and Clayton fell to the floor together, with her husband atop Clayton, who eventually managed to get the gun over Lockhart’s shoulder and shoot down into Lockhart’s back, she said.

After that, “he just kept shooting,” she said. Then the fighting stopped, and the two lay still for a moment before Lockhart got up and walked out the back door.

She called 911, screaming hysterically that her husband had been shot. “I told Eddie it’s not over, and then I drove my husband to the hospital,” she said. The couple’s two young daughters left with them.

Self-defense?

Shelnutt told jurors Lockhart, a much larger man, did more than just scuffle with Clayton: Lockhart “blindsided” Clayton from behind, the first time, and left him with a cut above the eye, head trauma and a broken eardrum.

Clayton shot Lockhart in the leg while trying to stop the second fight, and had to keep shooting because Lockhart kept punching him, Shelnutt said.

Having been assaulted in his own house, Clayton under Georgia law had a right to defend himself and his home, Shelnutt said, so he did nothing illegal: “There was no murder. There was no aggravated assault. There was no crime.”

The law allows Georgia residents to use deadly force not only to defend themselves from serious bodily injury or to prevent a “forcible felony,” but to prevent entry or an attack upon their habitation, the attorney said.

Anthony countered that the law allows Georgians to use such force only if they “reasonably believe” they are at risk of serious injury. If they are involved in a fight, they can’t use it after the other combatant withdraws, nor use it later to exact vengeance, he noted.

If convicted of murder, Clayton, now 36, could face life in prison.

The trial resumes Wednesday in Judge William Rumer’s Government Center courtroom.

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