A judge denied a motion Friday to drop a manslaughter charge against a Bluffton man accused of shooting his neighbor on his front stoop, after his lawyer argued he was merely protecting his home.
Jim Brown, attorney for William Shane Moreland, 31, argued that Moreland acted in self-defense and should be granted immunity under the state's Castle Doctrine, which gives people the legal right to use lethal force to protect themselves, their families and others in their homes.
Moreland is charged with manslaughter in the Nov. 19 shooting death of his 50-year-old neighbor, Thomas Mullins Jr., in the Palmetto Pointe Townes neighborhood.
According to court records, Mullins knocked on Moreland's front door at about 9 p.m. after an ongoing dispute he had with Moreland and Moreland's live-in girlfriend, Marissa Maulden.
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Moreland came outside through his garage and shot Mullins once. Moreland was released from jail Nov. 30 after posting bond.
Brown told Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper that Mullins had a "drinking and pill problem," a temper and was rumored to carry concealed weapons.
Mullins had previously pointed a gun at Maulden, who had been walking Mullins' dog for him after he had back surgery, Brown said. He had also left a voicemail at Moreland's house threatening to kill him before he came to Moreland's door, Brown said.
A toxicology report showed that Mullins had a blood alcohol content of 0.209 at the time of his death, Brown said.
Brown said the previous threat of violence and Mullins' reputation provoked reasonable fear that should allow Moreland to avoid prosecution.
Interpreting the Castle Doctrine to mean that an intruder had to be in the home before a person could act in self-defense would mean that "you would have to wait until they had the drop on you," Brown said.
Deputy Solicitor Sean Thornton said he found it impossible to believe that Moreland, a former Marine, feared Mullins, who was overweight and had back problems.
Instead of calling law enforcement, Moreland went out through his garage and "ambushed" Mullins, Thornton said.
"If (Mullins) had tried to kick in (the door), I would have dropped these charges," Thornton said. Instead, he was killed for knocking on a door to ask for a garage-door opener, he said.
Brown called neighbors to the stand to question them about Mullins' behavior.
Retired police detective and neighbor John Grauer Sr. said Mullins frequently walked his dog while drinking and wore a morphine patch. He said Mullins invited him to the shooting range, but Grauer repeatedly declined because he "personally did not believe him to be stable enough to own firearms."
Nicholas Ogle, a neighbor, said Mullins was found face-up with his head on Moreland's doormat and a gunshot wound to chest. Ogle was the first to perform CPR on Mullins before a Beaufort County sheriff's deputy arrived in response to Moreland's 911 call.
Ogle and neighbor Christine Smith said they did not hear an argument or commotion before the gunshot.
Thornton said he understood why the defense was attempting to characterize Mullins as a "pill-popping alcoholic," but drinking is "not a killing offense."
Cooper deliberated for about 40 minutes before concluding the Castle Doctrine, which covers homes and screened-in porches, vehicles and places of business, did not extend to the front stoop.
"There is no evidence of an attempt to commit a forcible entry in the house," Cooper said.
"There is proof, of course, of bad blood and other things going on before. But the evidence of those prior difficulties, threats, reputation ... does not change the statute."
The ruling means Moreland's manslaughter charge will go to trial. If convicted, he faces a minimum of two years and a maximum of 30 years in prison.
Mullins' relatives, including his mother, Joan, declined to comment after the hearing.
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