Jurors deciding whether to find a man guilty of first-degree murder after he shot someone with a bow-and-arrow during an argument should have been given a jury instruction on self-defense, a state appellate panel held.
Bradley French was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison for fatally shooting Joshua Scaman with an arrow in June 2015 in the Illinois Valley Community College parking lot in Oglesby.
Jurors had the option to find French guilty of second-degree murder but Circuit Judge Howard C. Ryan Jr. declined to give a self-defense instruction when French’s attorneys asked him to do so.
The second-degree murder instruction stated, “The defendant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a mitigating factor is present so that he is guilty of the lesser offense of [s]econd [d]egree [m]urder instead of [f]irst [d]egree [m]urder. By this, I mean that you must be persuaded in considering all the evidence in this case, that is more probably true than not true that the following mitigating factor is present: That the defendant, at the time he performed the acts which caused the death of Joshua Scaman, believed the circumstances to be such that they justified the deadly force he used, but his belief that such circumstance existed was unreasonable.”
French appealed his conviction, arguing Ryan should have given the jury an instruction on self-defense because they presented some evidence to support such a theory.
The Ottawa-based 3rd District Appellate Court panel found in its 17-page order that Ryan erred in not allowing the jury to decide whether French’s use of deadly force against Scaman was justified.
“In giving the second-degree murder instruction, the court obviously found that the defendant had presented evidence that he had a subjective belief that self-defense was necessary, but then made the determination that such a belief was unreasonable. That determination should have been left to the jury,” Justice William E. Holdridge wrote.
“The jury should have been given the self-defense and second-degree murder instructions so that they had the opportunity to determine whether they believed that the defendant had a subjective belief that use of force was necessary, and if so, whether that belief was reasonable or unreasonable,” he added.
To support French’s claim that jurors should have been given an instruction on self-defense he presented evidence that Scaman allegedly tried to sexually assault French’s close friend and beat her mother.
French also testified that during the incident itself Scaman lunged at him and reached toward his (Scaman’s) hip, as though he was reaching for a weapon. In response, French “had just raised the bow as quick as [he] could; pulled it back and fired.”
Holdridge wrote “even though the defendant’s testimony was impeached by his prior interrogation” members of the jury should have been allowed to decide whether French’s testimony was credible as to his justification for deadly force.
The appellate panel therefore rejected the state’s contention that Ryan’s decision was correct because the evidence was overwhelming that French was the aggressor.
Justices Daniel L. Schmidt and Mary K. O’Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion.
French was represented by Assistant Appellate Defender Alexander Gerard Muntges.
The state was represented by State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor Richard T. Leonard.
Neither side returned requests for comment.
The 3rd District case is the People of the State of Illinois v. Bradley M. French 2020 IL App (3d) 170220.