Marchant goes free, DA considers appeal after overturned manslaughter conviction - The Buffalo News

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Marchant goes free, DA considers appeal after overturned manslaughter conviction

It took only 10 seconds for a judge to order Jennifer R. Marchant released from custody after four years behind bars for killing her boyfriend.

The boyfriend's outraged mother will live with the ruling forever.

"She was the first aggressor, and this is absolutely heartbreaking," Michelle Stone of North Tonawanda told reporters after seeing Marchant go free Wednesday.

Marchant, who stabbed Ralph D. Stone Jr. to death in 2013, was released in the wake of an appellate court decision last week that overturned her conviction for first-degree manslaughter.

Marchant, 28, of North Tonawanda, showed little reaction as Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III told her she was to be released.

Marchant was brought into the courtroom through a back door without handcuffs as members of her family entered the courtroom. Some were still not seated when guards took Marchant out of the room again.

"As I'm sure you're aware, the Appellate Division has dismissed the indictment. You're going to be taken back to the (county) jail and released," Murphy told her.

Marchant said nothing. Within half an hour, she was gone from the jail.

"I just think it's horrifying. Justice was not served. She got away with murder," Michelle Stone said. "It's discriminating of gender. If it were reversed roles, we wouldn't be here. Let's face it."

"I lost him, too. This isn't something that I wanted to do. It was just something that I needed to do to save myself," Marchant said by telephone later Wednesday. "I adored her son, I really did, and it's still a loss for me."

Mrs. Stone denounced the judges who threw out Marchant's conviction for substituting their judgment for that of the grand jurors who indicted the case and the trial jurors who convicted Marchant.

"Why do we have jurors at all if three judges feel their decision matters more than 34 people who heard the evidence?" Mrs. Stone asked. "For them to just drop the indictment like it never happened? Well, it did happen. I go home every night without my son."

A narrow decision

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester voted 3-2 to overturn Marchant's conviction. The court majority concluded that Marchant killed Stone, 24, in self-defense, although the Niagara County Court jury that convicted her in January 2014 thought otherwise.

Their verdict was "against the weight of the evidence," appellate judges Gerald J. Whalen, Shirley Troutman and Nancy E. Smith decided. Two of their colleagues, Henry J. Scudder and Brian F. DeJoseph, disagreed and voted to uphold the conviction.

Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek is still researching the law to determine if the case can be appealed to the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court. She has 30 days from last Thursday's decision to do so - if it's legal to file an appeal.

"Marchant was decided on the weight of the evidence and may very well preclude review," Wojtaszek said in a statement Wednesday.

 

"This case went through three levels of legal review before it was examined by the Appellate Division: the Niagara County grand jury, the presiding (trial) judge at the close of the people's case, and the jury, who delivered a swift verdict in this case," Wojtaszek said. "Even all five appellate judges concluded that the people presented a legally sufficient case, but ultimately split 3-2 on the issue of justification."

But at least for now, Marchant is considered not guilty and cannot be imprisoned or reindicted in the homicide. If there is a further appeal and she loses, she would go back to prison to serve the remaining eight years of her 12-year sentence.

"Is she happy? I'm not sure," said Edward P. Perlman, the attorney who argued her appeal. "It's a tragic situation. A young man lost his life, and a young woman lost four years of her life. Although justice ultimately prevailed, Jennifer will bear the scars of having spent four years in a correctional facility."

 

The scene of the killing

On the night of Feb. 2, 2013, after a day of heavy drinking, Stone and Marchant returned to Marchant's apartment on Oliver Street in North Tonawanda and began to argue.

Marchant told detectives later that night that Stone followed her around the apartment, forcing his way into the bedroom and bathroom when she tried to shut the door on him.

During a pass through the kitchen, Marchant grabbed a knife.

Stone called 911 to report Marchant, who was on probation, had been drinking, but he hung up on the dispatcher, who called back a few times and eventually sent an officer to the apartment.

During one of the aborted calls, Stone told the dispatcher that if police arrived, "there would be trouble."

The first officer to enter the apartment testified that he saw Marchant and Stone struggling in the bathroom, and then Stone emerged from the bathroom and lunged at the policeman.

"He wasn't lunging at the police. He was falling to his death," Michelle Stone said Wednesday.

The officer tackled Stone and once they were on the floor, noticed Stone was bleeding profusely from a chest wound. He died moments later.

Marchant told detectives that Stone had grabbed her by the hair and told her, "Stab me. Be the boss. Stab me." She "just stuck him" with the knife, Marchant said in the police interview.

"She wasn't threatened. He was trapped behind the bathroom door at knifepoint," Mrs. Stone contended.

At his autopsy, Stone's blood alcohol content was measured at .285 percent, 3 1/2 times the legal threshold for intoxication. At the time of her questioning a few hours after the killing, Marchant was not legally drunk, measuring .06 percent on a breath test.

New York's self-defense law gives a person the right to use deadly force against an assailant only if she reasonably believes that the assailant is about to use deadly force against her. During Marchant's trial, defense attorney Dominic Saraceno commented that he believes the law is unfair to most women in domestic violence situations.

At the time of the incident, Marchant weighed 240 pounds and Stone weighed 220, but Stone was much stronger, Saraceno told the jury. However, he was unarmed, the dissenting justices noted, and in their opinion that invalidated any self-defense claim by Marchant.

The prosecutor in the trial, Lisa M. Baehre, said at the time that she thought Marchant was the aggressor in the incident.

However, a presentencing report prepared for County Judge Sara Sheldon before she sentenced Marchant quoted one of the investigating detectives, Karen Smith, as saying, "It's a shame that she was found guilty."

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