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Court Overturns Woman’s Murder Conviction

January 11, 1985

TOPEKA, Kan, (AP) _ The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday overturned the manslaughter conviction of a woman who shot her husband in the back after he beat and raped her at a motel.

In a 6-1 decision, with the sole female justice dissenting, the high court ruled the woman was a victim of the ″battered wife syndrome″ and acted in self-defense in killing her husband because she was in ″imminent danger.″

The decision overturns a conviction handed down by a Shawnee County District Court jury, which found the woman guilty of involuntary manslaughter, a charge reduced from second-degree murder.

Justice Kay McFarland, the only woman ever to serve on the Kansas Supreme Court, was the dissenter.

Justice Harold Herd, in writing the majority opinion, said the lower court gave the jury faulty instructions when it described criminal self-defense using the term of ″immediate danger″ rather than ″imminent danger.″

But Miss McFarland argued that there was no difference between the terms. The decision came in the case of a shooting Jan. 13, 1983, at the Jayhawk Junior Motel in Topeka.

The ruling invalidated the involuntary manslaughter conviction and sent the case back for a new trial.

The majority opinion said Judge James Macnish was wrong not to allow the jury to consider the effect on the woman ″of the history of violence toward her by the decedent.″

″This consideration was critical to the appellant’s perception of the need to defend herself in this case, and thereby caused reversible error,″ the majority said.

But Miss McFarland said, ″There can be no doubt from the evidence that the deceased was a violent, brutal man who had repeatedly attacked and injured his wife over a number of years.″

She added, ″There were only two persons in the motel room. One admits killing the other. The only version of what transpired is that of the defendant herein.″

The difference of opinion between the six justices in the majority and Miss McFarland was over Macnish’s instructions to the jury on whether the woman was in ″immediate″ or ″imminent″ danger.

″I fail to see how, in this factual situation, it could be reversible error to use ‘immediate’ rather than ‘imminent’ in the self-defense instruction as it would not have altered the outcome,″ Miss McFarland wrote.

However, Herd said in the majority opinion, ″...The question is whether the instruction allows the jury to consider ‘all the evidence,’ or whether the use of the word ‘immediate’ rather than ‘imminent’ precludes the jury’s consideration of the prior abuse.

″...The time limitations in the use of the word ‘immediate’ are much stricter than those in the use of the word ’imminent.‴

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