Domestic Self Defense Case: Fast Accusation, Slow Acquittal

Over a year ago James Andrew Smith was charged with attempted murder of the mother of his daughter. He was found not guilty on Tuesday by a jury. They must have found his self defense story plausible. From 2014 mlive.com, “A jury has found an East Lansing man not guilty after he was accused of shooting the mother of his then-2-year-old daughter during a child custody exchange at a vacant Vienna Township gas station.” Smith didn’t dispute that he had shot Ginger Don, the mother . . .

His attorney is quoted:

 Smith’s attorney, Mary Chartier-Mittendorf, said her client acted in self-defense when the alleged victim stabbed him. Chartier-Mittendorf said a knife was found at the scene.

The case illustrates a real bias in the way that the accused in a self defense case is often covered. Defenders have to be careful about what they say, because everything they say can potentially be used against them in court. We have seen that dynamic play out in high profile cases such as those of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson and George Zimmerman in Florida.

By the time the facts finally come out, many will have already formed an opinion that is based on only one side of the case being presented. The first story that I found about this case was written two days after the event, in September of 2013. It included the accusation against Smith, but nothing from his side.

From Sept 4th 2013 mlive.com:

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, MI – A 42-year-old East Lansing man faces an attempted murder charge in the shooting of the mother of his 2-year-old daughter on Monday with the child in his vehicle.

Then there was a story about what the woman said happened. From Nov 2013 mlive.com:

Ginger Don testified that she was shot in the hand and the top of the skull by James Andrew Smith, the father of her 3-year-old daughter, Sept. 2, in the parking lot of the former BP gas station on Vienna Road.

Smith, of East Lansing, was bound over Wednesday, Nov. 6, to stand trial on attempted murder and felony firearm charges and an added charge of assault with intent to murder following a preliminary exam before Genesee District Judge Larry Stecco.

The November 2013 account notes that the two were undergoing a custody hearing:

 Don said she and Smith were going through custody hearing at the time of the incident. She said she was seeking additional weekend and summer time with the child.

I haven’t found any other stories about the trial or testimony until the last story where Mr. Smith was found not guilty by reason of self defense.

For well over a year, the people who have read about James Andrew Smith have  known nothing about him, except that he was accused of shooting the mother of his child and was charged with attempted murder and firearms violations.    Suddenly, it’s reported that he was found not guilty.

The incident was never reported as a self defense shooting. I don’t know all the details, but a jury was obviously convinced.

It is not uncommon in self defense cases for the victim to be accused as the perpetrator. If it happens to you, many will assume the worst of you. You may never fully recover your good name, but you will find out who your real friends are.

©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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comments

  1. avatar BDub says:

    To be fair, the public and legal biases against this man have less to do with his use of self defense than they do the gender relationship of those involved. If this was a woman shooting an estranged husband with a knife, trying to take her kids, the question of self-defense would have been a foregone conclusion for the media – with TTAG touting the woman’s successful self-defense, in spite of a MOM’s claim to the contrary.

    1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

      Yep.

    2. avatar forrest says:

      I agree completely.

      My first reaction to reading that a man was accused of shooting the mother of his child was “fry him.” But after reading that she had stabbed him and that a jury accepted that it was “No jury would take a father’s side over a mother’s without overwhelming evidence. Support this guy.”

      It’s all about how you frame the story. Even a pro-self defense guy like myself can be fooled about the “facts” of a case when reporters intentionally (or just ignorantly) leave out important details.

      You may lose your good name, but thanks to the courts, you can always change it to a newer, better one. Here’s hoping he choses an awesome name that makes men want to be him and women want to be with him.

    3. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      “She said she was seeking additional weekend and summer time with the child.”

      Sounds as though she may not have been the custodial parent. Also somewhat unusual.

      1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

        I’m guessing two things:
        1) Dad spent the last year and half in jail, lost his job and never saw his 2-yr-old daughter during that time.
        2) Mom was the custodial parent while Dad awaited trial, and daughter was told what everyone else thought: Daddy tried to kill Mommy so he’s in prison.

        If I’m wrong about that, feel free to correct me.

        1. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

          Don’t forget getting behind on child support while in jail, best believe they’ll still come after you for it.

        2. avatar Mark N. says:

          Without your more sophisticated analysis, such was my first thought, precisely, in response to Tom’s comment: “bet she is now.” And I also suspect that his issues with CPS have not ended either. Remember that kid who was suspended for twirling his pencil in school in NJ (because another student said he was making like a gun)? I read that the school finally backed off–but the trouble with CPS had just begun. The CPS removed the child from the father’s custody and demanded that the child undergo a psych evaluation. Apparently the doc had no issue–but the CHP is still on dad’s case. Same here–it doesn’t matter that Dad was justified, he USED A GUN and INJURED the child’s mother!! HE MUST BE UNFIT TO PARENT! (Of course.)

        3. avatar Quicktojudge says:

          Well Curtis in IL you are very wrong! This abusive adulterous narcisstic sociopathic murderer was able to see the child (supervised visits) which is absurd. He spent two days in jail and has been free to do whatever he pleases while she lives in fear. You all keep talking about the custody of this child, everyone is failing to know the facts about it. Also, This sweet child has never been made to relive this event that she had to witness. As far as the knife (if that’s what you want to call it) IF it was in this woman’s hand and she was stabbing him how did the bullet go THROUGH her hand? And why were her finger prints not on it anywhere? And why is it that in the police report and during testimony was it stated it fell out of HIS car AFTER the shooting, And if you were being stabbed by a 107lb woman enough to puncture your skin wouldn’t you have holes in your shirt? Or blood be on your shirt? Or something???? no all negative here in this case. He is an attorney and knew just enough to know how to manipulate everyone into his academy award winning act. Everyone except ALL the detectives and ALL the witnesses that came to the scene . sickening!!

    4. avatar Slicer87 says:

      Historically legal systems usually treat women better than men in courts and often give women lessor punishments for being female. Society teaches everyone to automatically take a woman’s side in a man vs woman case like this and it is a bad habit to break.

  2. avatar Ralph says:

    The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine. James Andrew Smith is very fortunate that he wasn’t ground to nothing under the wheels of American justice.

  3. avatar Mark Chamberlain says:

    Now that he has been found not guilty based on his self defense argument, maybe there is probable cause to charge her with something. After all, he must have been defending himself against something, and she was on the receiving end of his self defense efforts. Probably won’t happen.

  4. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

    She attacked him, he went to jail, she stayed with kids, he gets out a year later exonerated, but jobless, likely broke, kids having spent the last year being told their dad is a murderous criminal, and now, he owes a year of back child support… Nothing quite like being a man during domestic issues.

    1. avatar Quicktojudge says:

      So far from the truth , sorry you don’t know the facts.

  5. avatar Xanthro says:

    His bail was set at $3,000 and he was out this entire time.
    This was reported in the media, I’ve known about the case and details over over a year.
    What was in dispute is who did the stabbing. Even some witnesses claimed that the stabbing was self-inflicted. It also wasn’t a knife, but a letter opener.
    I haven’t followed the court proceedings, so I’m not familiar with any new revelations that came out during trial.

  6. avatar JSIII says:

    “client acted in self-defense when the alleged victim stabbed him. Chartier-Mittendorf said a knife was found at the scene.”

    Why the HELL did this ever go to trail? That sounds about as clean cut as it gets, the crazy chick STABBED him?

    Why has his baby-momma not been charged with attempted murder? This is a freaking P U S S Y Pass if I have ever seen one.

    1. avatar Xanthro says:

      It was with a letter opener, and some witnesses described the stabbing as self inflicted, and the injuries were very minor.
      Even if she stabbed him with the letter opener, she was inside the vehicle, he was outside, and there is a legal question as to whether lethal self defense is warranted in that instance.

    2. avatar Slicer87 says:

      Manily because he was a man that shot a woman. If it was reversed the man would still have gone to trial and the woman hailed as a hero.

      1. avatar Drew says:

        Are you sure? Because that’s not how it works.

        1. avatar slicer87 says:

          Because the cops and courts usually automatically take the woman’s side and many laws are written with a pro female, anti male bias. Only time women are punished worse than men is if the crime they are accused of breaks gender roles, for example a mother killing her children are punished worse than a father killing his kids.

    3. avatar Fuque says:

      Now watch her sue him for an increase in child support…

  7. avatar Former Water Walker says:

    I was not there and am a mite confused about this. Is TTAG reporting this at all accurately? I went through divorce crap years ago and readily understand crazy and vindictive. Like costing you your job and not getting your child support as a result…

  8. avatar Hannibal says:

    “The incident was never reported as a self defense shooting. I don’t know all the details, but a jury was obviously convinced…”

    More like they were NOT convinced of his guilty.

    A ‘not guilty’ finding does not = innocent.

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  10. avatar GrammaB says:

    I was a juror. Someone said that witnesses claimed the stab wounds were self inflicted. False, no one said that.

    Someone said that a witness said a knife fell out of the car. A young woman did claim this. She said she saw the knife on a pillow in the back seat through the back window. She also said that Mr. Smith was wearing a red shirt. She also said the back window she supposedly looked through was “absolutely definitely not tinted.” We were taken to view the car in question. Not only are the back windows tinted but they are VERY tinted. So much so that you can barely see inside the vehicle when your face is 3 inches from the window. There is no way she saw inside that car from where she said she was standing let alone if she had pressed her nose against the glass. She flat out lied. Also Mr. Smith was not wearing a red shirt, not even close to looking red. The witness also said the knife she supposedly saw had a straight blade when she “saw it in the car” and when she “saw it on the pavement.” Yet police pictures showed this knife on the pavement with a significantly bent blade. No way you would’ve thought it was even close to straight. And we examined the blade. It didn’t bend easily and there is no way it magically bent that much by falling out of the car. And according to other witness testimony right after Mr. Smith opened the door he was taken at gunpoint to sit on the curb. However, when the knife was shown to us it had a straight blade. It had been in the police’s possession until we saw it yet no officer admitted to straightening the blade. But someone in the police department did straighten it before it was sent to be fingerprinted because the fingerprint guy from the crime lab said he didn’t straighten the blade and he would NEVER do that because it could destroy evidence. Yet when he got it for testing the blade was straightened. Perhaps the witness was shown the knife with a straight blade shortly after the incident and thus thought it was straight and built her story around that. The witness was also overly aggressive on the witness stand and acted like she had a stake in the outcome. She also got other things wrong.

    The alleged victim testified that she had looked in the car and that she actually got in the back yet she didn’t testify to seeing a knife. No other witnesses that were there testified to seeing a knife in the back of the car. The prosecutor made it seem like this was some large SUV when it was actually a very small compact car. There was no way the alleged victim wouldn’t have seen the knife sitting on a pillow in the back seat. The alleged victim also said that Mr. Smith opened the car door while she was standing there. She saw no knife. Yet supposedly there was a knife sitting on a pillow in clear view at this door and it fell out when the door was opened again.

    True the alleged victim’s fingerprints were not on the knife but the crime lab fingerprint guy said that the wood handle wouldn’t necessarily hold prints. Also, the knife was altered by straightening the blade before it went to the crime lab which easily could have intentionally wiped it clean too.

    The police in this case were so clearly not seeking the truth. It seemed they were covering for the alleged victim. There was so much unprofessional and insane stuff that I can’t list it all here.

    Also when the alleged victim testified she flat lied about certain things. From all the evidence she was clearly obsessively controlling. The woman is a mental case. Her testimony was so unbelievable for so many reasons.

    As for the knife, the prosecutor tried that same trick calling it a letter opener. It was a knife. Even the police officers who testified called it a knife. The prosecutor kept calling it a letter opener as if he was going to convince us it was a letter opener with his words even though we saw the actual knife ourselves. It was a knife with a sharp blade.

    The prosecutor also did his best to try and make it look like the custody exchange spot was in some private hiding spot where no one could see what happened. We were taken to the scene where the car was parked. It was so out in the open I was disgusted by the prosecutor. It was parked at a gas station in the only spot where it was reasonable to park. The spot was clearly and easily visible from a very busy street. It was also easily visible from the windows of the dining room of a restaurant right next to it. The argument that it was a secluded location couldn’t have been further from reality. I don’t think the prosecutor thought the judge would let us visit the scene or I doubt he would’ve said the things he did. Or maybe he was just stupid and thought that his words would convince us that it was secluded just like he thought his words would convince us that the knife wasn’t a knife. I think he thought we would depend on his silly misleading pictures.

    I could go on and on about the ridiculousness of this case. From the moment we were able to deliberate and talk about the case we all agreed that not only had the prosecutor not proven his case beyond a reasonable doubt but that Mr. Smith was actually truly 100% innocent. The alleged victim should’ve been sitting in the defendant’s chair in that courtroom. This case that was designed to convict Mr. Smith of a life offense maybe would’ve convicted the alleged victim if that was an option.

    1. avatar cmeat says:

      he’s got a red shirt on in the photo.

      1. avatar MS says:

        That isn’t a red shirt in the photo. It’s an orange jail jumpsuit.

  11. avatar GrammaB says:

    So after discussing these comments with my husband a little while ago I realized some other things. The prosecutor made a big deal about the alleged victim being 107lbs as if that had anything to do with whether she could inflict harm with a knife. He said it over and over. When he did that I thought to myself that I would be scared of some 75lbs kid with a knife. Her weight had nothing to do with whether she could inflict serious harm with a knife. It was just more smokescreen. He portrayed her as some small weakling. I actually thought that because she was smaller it actually went a long way towards explaining why the injuries from the stab wounds weren’t more severe.

    Also someone here said there was no blood on the shirt. It wasn’t soaked in blood. But saying there was no blood on it is quite a claim to make when you weren’t on the jury and only saw the shirt from a distance and weren’t able to handle it first hand. You also didn’t see the shirt inside out. The prosecutor conveniently never turned it inside out. But guess what, we had the shirt and looked at it and handled it. There is so much speculation here being passed off as evidence its ridiculous.

    Also I am assuming that one of the posters here was in the courtroom during the trial. There were maybe 7 people in the courtroom for most of the trial. It was easy to pick out who the alleged victim’s family was due to all of the faces being made and head shaking being done. At one point there was a little girl testifying and I think she was 12 years old. I was disgusted at the evil eye and scowls being given to her by one woman in the courtroom. All of the head shaking and stuff looked like they were trying to intimidate the little girl. Shame on you. But the theatrics had no effect on me one way or another. I considered the evidence.

    There were also a couple other people and they were sitting on the Mr. Smith’s side of the gallery. They watched intently with no theatrics. One was a young woman and she just sat there taking notes. I thought she was maybe a reporter at first but she was sitting with an older gentleman and I got the feeling they must’ve been family. But again their behavior didn’t effect me either. There were also one or 2 other people who sat in the back who were probably casual observers or maybe reporters. They also sat their reactionless. I can understand being upset and maybe the occasional hurt look or something but when you have a 12 year old little girl that wasn’t there to witness the events and whose testimony isn’t extreme and you make faces at her, it’s disgusting.

    1. avatar MS says:

      I know all the people you referred to in the courtroom. The girl who testified was the defendant’s older daughter. She lost her mom; the defendant lost his wife – to breast cancer when the girl was about 3. I was with the girl the morning after her mother died. She was very brave. The alleged victim is a control freak mental case who was never kind towards the older daughter, despite this girl loving her younger sister to no end. The alleged victim (I believe) was severely jealous of the older sister and was too immature to be an adult in the situation.

      The “young woman” taking notes was actually about 50. (I’m sure she’d get a kick out of you calling her a “young woman.”) The older gentlemen was her father. They have no family relationships to anyone involved, but were close to the Smith family and felt that the defendant was being railroaded.

      I’m also familiar with the location of the incident and the vehicles involved. The “victim” was driving a black tracker, which Smith purchased for himself some time earlier and let her borrow it after she wrecked her car. Well prior to the incident, Smith was in the hospital for over a week with severe asthma. The doctors couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t treat it quickly, and many of us thought he wouldn’t make it out. During that time, the “victim” re-titled the Tracker in her name. (I’m not sure, but Smith maybe had his vehicle titles signed-off in and stored in a safe so in the event of his death, the vehicles would not have to go through probate court. This is common estate advice but would make it easy for a girlfriend to swoop-in and take the vehicle.) This has no bearing on the case but goes to show you the mentality of the supposed victim. I have no first-hand knowledge of what transpired regarding the transfer of the title to the Tracker, but Smith told me personally (shortly after the hospital stay and long before the shooting) that the Tracker was more or less stolen from him.

      The shooter’s vehicle was a small SUV (a Suzuki of some sort). The rear windows were tinted VERY dark. I happen to know this because I once borrowed that same vehicle to pick up an air conditioner. When I closed the hatch, the cardboard box caught the rear glass and scraped some of the tint off. So I had to take the vehicle to a repair shop to get it fixed. As an aside, Smith told me not to worry about it.

      Eyewitness testimony was that a knife was perched on top of a pillow in the back seat, and when Smith was ordered by a citizen (with a gun) to take the baby out of the vehicle, the pillow and knife fell to the ground. Yet, the “victim” testified that she just before the shooting, she opened that same back door to get the baby out, then Smith slammed the car door shut and said he wanted to say good-bye first, got back in the car, came back out with something in is hand (presumably the gun) and shot her. This knife is more magic than Oliver Stone’s “magic bullet.” So, the pillow and knife stayed in the back seat magically when the mom opened the door, but when the dad opened the door, suddenly the pillow and knife fell to the ground?

      There is no way anyone could have seen a knife on a pillow in the backseat through those darkly-tinted back windows from a distance of multiple yards. You couldn’t have seen it from three feet. The eyewitness was lying and seemed to have some sort of agenda. Personally, I think she told a story to police at the scene, got some facts wrong (lied) and tried to re-tell the story at trail to suit her agenda.

      The prosecution went to great lengths to frame the story in a way to favor the mother. He somehow thought that calling the weapon a “letter opener” rather than a knife would help him win the case. This came across to me like the PA was hedging his bet. If the woman was a stabber, then calling the weapon a “letter opener” would somehow make her appear less threatening. There would be no other good reason to describe the weapon as a “letter opener,” rather than a knife, which it clearly was. So this was the PA inferring, “OK, even if she did stab him, it was just a letter opener and she’s tiny so Smith should not have responded with deadly force.” The approach clearly backfired.

      As far as the scene of the incident, the PA (and the press) emphasized “abandoned gas station.” I went to the scene after the incident. The emphasis on “abandoned gas station” was another approach that backfired. The gas station was clearly abandoned, but it is located just off I-75. The location of Smith’s car was clearly visible to the dining area of the adjoining Big Boy restaurant. If you were going to lure a person to a place to kill them, this would be a terrible choice. It would have been so much easier to go to the carpool parking lot about 100 yards west and do the deed there, out of sight of everyone.

      I don’t know if this came up in court, but in video interviews at the jail, Smith said he was trying to push the mom’s buttons. He was frustrated that despite the custody order, the mom never wanted to meet half-way for the exchange (half-way between Lansing and Fairgrove) and Smith usually made the entire drive. But on this day, he told the mom she had to meet him half-way. Smith told me that she was very angry, which is what he wanted. He was sick of her BS. He picked the location because it was easy-off, easy-on for him from I-75..so he could make the exchange and get right back onto I-75 (In Labor day end-of-weekend traffic). This is driving 101. There is also a very busy gas station/truck stop with a Rally’s drive-thru across the street. If he wanted to murder her that day, it’s reasonable to conclude that he would have asked to meet at the adjacent carpool parking lot (which gives no rise for concern as would an “abandoned gas station”) and been well out of public view.

      My last comment for now. I don’t know if the interrogation videos were fully showed during the trial. At one point, the interrogating officer came into the interrogation room with a DVD and told Smith that it contained security video from the gas station across the street, but he hadn’t seen it yet because his work computer couldn’t read it. In the video, Smith got frustrated and angry and said more or less (I’m not quoting), “let’s watch the video and then we can all go home.” This isn’t the behavior of someone conscious of guilt.

  12. avatar I HappenedinVegas says:

    Hey quicktojudge you said he is a murderer, who’d he murder?

  13. avatar I HappenedinVegas says:

    Hey quicktojudge you said he’s a murderer who’d he murder?

    By the way your name is very ironic don’t you think?

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