Sacramento jury acquits man of manslaughter

10/04/2013 8:00 PM

10/05/2013 11:31 AM

Donnell Deshawn Stean caught a right hand over his left eye from a punch thrown by Rickey Bernard Howard Jr. He fought back with a shot to the chest from his 9mm handgun. Howard fell dead, but on Friday, Stean got to walk out of jail a free man after a Sacramento Superior Court jury found that he killed in self-defense and acquitted him of voluntary manslaughter.

The shooting took place just before 2 a.m. last Nov. 3 on the doorstep of Stean’s apartment in the 1300 block of Bell Street. Howard, 33, had recently been paroled from prison on a two-year sentence for his fourth driving-under-the-influence conviction in 12 years, court records showed.

When he died, Howard’s blood-alcohol measured at 0.23, nearly three times the legal limit, according to coroner toxicology tests. At the time of his arrest later that day, Stean tested positive for the active ingredient in marijuana, said his lawyer, Alan Whisenand.

Stean, now 31, has no local criminal convictions or filings against him, according to court records. He worked as a security guard at Hostess for a private company on contract with the since-shuttered bakery. He had undergone firearms training for his work and was licensed to carry an exposed weapon for the purpose of his job, according to his lawyer. Stean needed to be at work the next day at 4 p.m.

When Stean came home at 11 p.m. the night of the killing, he found several people in his apartment who were friends and relatives of a woman roommate he wanted out of the place. The group was ostensibly there to help the woman move, authorities said. Stean’s lawyer said they’d all been drinking.

Witnesses said the woman’s friends got mad at Stean when he punched an older man who also was staying at the apartment. Later, when Stean walked out to the patio in front of his apartment, Howard punched him. Stean then drew his weapon and fired. Three of his bullets struck Howard.

“He acted in compliance with the law and common sense,” Whisenand said in his closing argument. The lawyer told jurors Stean felt threatened not only by Howard but by two or three other of the female roommate’s friends and relatives who were outside on the patio with Howard. One of the other men was the woman’s brother whom the defendant also shot and seriously wounded. Jurors acquitted Stean on that count, too.

After five days of evidence presented in front of Judge Timothy M. Frawley, Deputy District Attorney Robin Shakely argued that Stean’s escalation of force was unwarranted. “Mr. Stean brought a 9 millimeter Glock to a fistfight, and that is not self-defense,” she said.

About a dozen people appearing on behalf of the victim showed up for the verdict amid heavy courtroom security. Most of them showed their disfavor with the result by getting up and leaving. A couple members of the group shrieked in tears in the hallway outside. One woman fell to the floor and needed help from her friends to leave the courthouse. None of them agreed to be interviewed.

“This was a difficult case,” Shakely said in a written statement. “The people of our community were presented with all the evidence and they made a decision based upon the facts and the law. Although the victim’s family feels there’s no justice, from a dispassionate perspective, I believe we had our day in court and justice was served.”

Whisenand said Stean acted reasonably, “and that’s what the jury found. It was the right verdict.”

Once the verdict was read, Whisenand said Stean, who has been in the downtown jail without bail since the day of the shooting last Nov. 3, turned to him and said, “I want you to tell Rickey’s family I’m sad he’s dead. I felt like I had to do what I did. I was very, very scared.”

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