Alabama woman Brittany Smith lost her Stand Your Ground hearing on Monday after shooting and killing a man she said raped her and attacked her brother in January 2018. According to The New Yorker, she now faces life in prison.
“I was prepared for a no, but I just feel like I’m not gonna get a fair trial here,” Smith told the magazine. “[The judge] saw the pictures of me; he almost beat me to death, he did rape me, and he tried to kill my brother, so how can she say this?”
In a 19-page ruling handed down more than three weeks after her hearing, Judge Jenifer Holt decided that Smith’s use of deadly force was not wholly justified on the grounds that it was uncertain that Smith had a reason to believe that the man, Todd Smith (no relation), was going to hurt her.
The incident in question happened two years ago, according to the New Yorker, when Todd Smith called Brittany and asked if she could pick him up from a city park, where he was stranded. A day before, she had bought a puppy from the man, who was an acquaintance. (Todd did not tell her that his father had kicked him out of the house after an altercation.) Brittany felt uneasy, but it was snowing, so she decided to lend a hand, along with her brother, Chris McCallie.
The pair started discussing meth addiction after McCallie dropped them off at Brittany’s home — Brittany had gotten clean — and allegedly Todd became violent and attacked her, under the impression that she had been gloating about her thwarted addiction.
According to the New Yorker, Todd threw her on the bed and choked her until she blacked out; when she woke, she was naked, lying in a pool of urine and he was raping her. After the alleged incident, Brittany said Todd threatened to kill her if she told anyone and demanded cigarettes. Brittany didn’t have a car, so she called her mother, who sent McCallie over. The younger woman was unable to convey her distress to her mother, as Todd held the phone, she told the New Yorker.
McCallie drove the pair to a gas station, and Brittany went in to get cigarettes while the men stayed in the car. The cashier, Paige Painter, asked the woman if anything was wrong, given her disheveled state, and Brittany slipped her a piece of paper with Todd’s name on it, saying that he had beaten and raped her. She told the cashier not to call the police, for fear than Todd would kill her.
When the trio arrived home, Brittany texted her mother about Todd; her mother then called McCallie, who fetched his gun and told Todd to leave. When the other man reportedly refused, McCallie tried to physically remove him; Todd overpowered him and began to choke McCallie. Brittany allegedly intervened and grabbed the gun, asking Todd to let her brother go. Brittany said that Todd threatened to kill them both, after which she shot him and called 911.
Initially, Brittany told law enforcement that her brother had killed Todd, concerned that cops would not administer a rape examination until it was too late. (The examination revealed “bruises on her neck, breasts, arms, legs, and pelvis, evidence of strangulation, bite marks on her neck and chin, and secretions on her neck and in her vagina,” according to the New Yorker.) This would prove troublesome during her Stand Your Ground trial, as it made her seem unreliable. She admitted the following day that she had shot Todd, according to The Appeal.
Brittany was arrested and charged with murder. She spent four months in prison and six in a mental institution, before obtaining a Stand Your Ground trial in January — Stand Your Ground is a law that deems it legal to use lethal force if you are or feel sufficiently threatened. Brittany would have gained immunity if she had won her trial.
During the hearing, which took place at Jackson County Courthouse in Scottsboro, Alabama, sexual assault nurse Jeanine Suermann — who examined Brittany after the alleged rape — testified that the woman had been bitten, strangled, and assaulted. According to the New Yorker, Todd had been arrested eighty times, at least six times for domestic violence.
Jackson County District Attorney Jason Pierce, however, asserted that no rape could be proven since there was no evidence of Todd’s semen on Brittany. The judge also cited in her decision that Brittany had not mentioned the rape when she called 911; the woman told the New Yorker she was ashamed to tell the operator.
Following her loss at trial, Brittany and her lawyers will now have to file a “writ of mandamus” to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, a.k.a. a request for a judge to overturn the decision. If this fails, they will have to go before the Alabama Supreme Court. If this attempt also fails, she will go to trial.
The Stand Your Ground law has been hotly contested in recent years as it relates to both women in abusive relationships and people of color. As the New Yorker notes, only a few women in Alabama have won immunity since the law was adopted in that state in 2006 — including Selma resident Jacqueline Dixon, who shot her husband after a dispute in 2018.
Perhaps more infamously, Florida’s George Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 after shooting and killing black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman, who volunteered with neighborhood watch, claimed that he shot Martin in self-defense. In response, everyone from then-President Barack Obama to Stevie Wonder spoke out in protest, Wonder asserting that he wouldn’t perform in any state with a Stand Your Ground Law. In 2013, the Tampa Bay Times found that 70% of people claiming Stand Your Ground immunity went free, and that they’re more likely to do so if the victim was black.