The Nevada Supreme Court has voted 6-1 to overturn the manslaughter conviction of brothel manager Patricia Boykins.
Boykins, 45, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting her boyfriend Calvin Swazya to death at the Sagebrush Ranch in Lyon County in October 1995. He was killed by a bullet wound in the head.
Boykins said repeatedly to police and during the trial that the .357-magnum pistol discharged accidentally while she was trying to scare Swazya away to avoid a beating.
Her lawyers based her defense on arguments the shooting was justifiable and self-defense. They presented testimony that Swazya, a custodian at the licensed brothel, had beaten Boykins numerous times during their seven-year relationship and that they had argued earlier that day.
One witness testified he saw Boykins in a corner of her office at one point with hands raised to protect her face while Swazya stood over her, hand raised as if to slap her.
She received a sentence of four years in prison for the shooting. She was paroled in 1998. Her lawyers appealed her conviction, arguing that instructions to the jury didn't give them enough leeway to take her state of mind and fear of Swazya into account.
All but one member of the high court agreed and overturned the conviction.
"The theory behind the use of evidence regarding domestic violence and the battered woman syndrome centers upon the state of mind of the individual who has been subjected to such violence," says the opinion written by Justice Myron Leavitt. "Self defense is shown when a person under the circumstances reasonably believes she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, even if no actual threat exists."
The opinion concludes that the jury instructions violated her rights to a fair trial by improperly limiting the jury in considering that defense and ordered a new trial.
Justice Cliff Young disagreed, pointing out that Boykins was consistent in her claims the shooting was an accident.
"Thus, battered woman syndrome testimony is simply irrelevant because the testimony only relates to a claim of self defense and self defense only arises to legally justify a killing," said Young. "If the killing is an accident, legal justification is not required."
Lyon County District Attorney Robert Estes was not available for comment on whether he plans to retry the case.