Jennifer Marchant, a former internet pornography performer who stabbed her boyfriend to death in North Tonawanda four years ago, should not have been convicted, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court concluded.
The court majority said the jury got it wrong when it rejected Marchant's claim that she acted in self-defense.
Marchant's conviction for first-degree manslaughter was overturned in a 3-2 vote of the judges. The court also dismissed the indictment.
The District Attorney's Office has the right to appeal the case to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals — but that court isn't required to take the case, said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration.
Edward P. Perlman, the lawyer who argued Marchant's appeal, said the DA's Office cannot try to obtain a fresh indictment.
"Jennifer will not face another trial," Perlman said. "My understanding is, she'll be released from prison and able to rejoin her family."
District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek said her office is reviewing this decision to determine its options.
Defense attorney Dominic Saraceno, who represented Marchant at trial, was pleased with the appellate ruling.
"I think the jury clearly got it wrong, and the Appellate Division was wise enough to interpret the evidence correctly," Saraceno said.
Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon sentenced Marchant to 12 years in state prison for the death of Ralph D. Stone Jr., 24, whom Marchant stabbed in the chest on the night of Feb. 2, 2013.
Marchant, now 27, formerly performed in porn videos under the name "Scarlett Rouge."
Marchant, Stone and a friend had been drinking heavily all day, and when they returned to Marchant's Oliver Street apartment, she and Stone got into a loud argument.
Marchant called 911, and Stone hung up on the dispatcher, who called back twice. On one of the calls, Stone warned that if police came, "There would be trouble."
The dispatcher sent officers anyway, and the first officer to enter heard screaming and an apparent struggle in the bathroom. Stone emerged from the bathroom and lunged at the officer, who tackled him and then found Stone bleeding profusely from a chest wound. A knife was found on the bathroom floor.
An autopsy found Stone's blood alcohol content was measured at .285 percent, more than 3 ½ times the legal threshold for intoxication.
Marchant told police that night that she thought Stone was going to kill her and had chased her around the apartment. She grabbed a knife in the kitchen and told him to back off, but Stone continued chasing her.
Marchant testified that she tried to hide in the bathroom but Stone forced open the door, dared her to stab him and pulled her head backward by grabbing her hair. Marchant said she tried to escape the bathroom, but Stone grabbed her hair again, so she "just stuck him" with the knife.
Police testified that the locks on the bedroom and bathroom doors had been damaged, and that they found blood spatter that indicated Stone was knifed in the bathroom.
The court majority ruled that the prosecution didn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Marchant was not justified in stabbing Stone, even though Stone was not armed.
However, the two dissenting judges wrote that it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that Marchant did not have reason to believe she faced the imminent threat of "deadly physical force" being used against her by Stone.
At the time of the trial in 2013, North Tonawanda Detective Lt. Karen Smith was quoted in a presentencing report by a probation officer as saying, "It's a shame that she was found guilty."
Saraceno said at the trial that although Marchant, who weighed 240 pounds, outweighed Stone by about 20 pounds, Stone was far stronger.