This week, a Washington, DC jury decided to acquit Ferdinand Jones of manslaughter charges relating to the death of homeowner Tomas Hernandez. Jones had already pleaded guilty on a lesser charge of criminal trespass.*
The verdict wraps up a controversial case that had dominated headlines for weeks in the District.
The trial relates to an incident that occurred last March. Jones, 37, broke into the townhome of Hernandez, 44, in the evening of March 25 with intent to “pick up a few things” according to his testimony. At trial, Jones acknowledged breaking into Hernandez’s home and ultimately causing his death, but Jones claimed the killing was in self-defense.
Hernandez was working late on the night in question, and the home was unoccupied at the time that Jones picked the lock.
Jones told the jury that his robbery was going according to plan until Hernandez barged in on him. Hernandez tried to attack Jones soon after entering and discovering his presence. However, Jones was armed with a pistol and fired three shots before Hernandez could reach him.
“There I was, rifling through his valuables, and then he got home much earlier than he was supposed to,” Jones said. “I had every right not to be there, and he attacked me for no reason.”
Jones said that he feared for his life and “had no choice” but to defend himself.
It was considered a risky defense strategy to try to claim self-defense in the midst of a home invasion. Given that Jones had clearly violated Hernandez’s rights by entering his home without permission, most people would assume Hernandez could use force to expel him.
However, at the trial, Jones’s all-star legal team found a compelling precedent for their self-defense claim in US foreign policy. Jones’s lawyers noted that the US military routinely enters sovereign countries in violation of international law. Then, if local government-backed forces get too near to the US or US-backed forces, the US will strike in the name of self-defense.
“If the US generals say that counts as self-defense, then clearly my client had a right to defend his own life when attacked,” Jones’s lead attorney argued.
The prosecution attempted to get this example stricken from the record, claiming the US military’s actions were “both illegal and irrelevant” in the cases cited.
But Judge Merrick Harmon ultimately sided with the defense, saying, “Who am I to question the legality of the government’s actions?”
In the end, the jury sided with the defense as well.
*This is a satirical post. All of the individuals mentioned above are fictional characters, but the US government actually does claim self-defense to justify the use of force in countries it invades.