Of all the rights prized by Virginians, the right of self-defense must be pretty high on the list. Knowing when the right kicks in can be a hair-trigger question.
A Portsmouth Circuit Court judge thought Quinton Hill could have retreated when Thomas Chavis, a passenger in Shannon Ford’s car, shot into Hill’s car as Ford pulled alongside Hill on the George Washington Highway. Instead, Hill fired a shot into Ford’s car.
“The City of Portsmouth is not the O.K. Coral and just because somebody shoots at you doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a right to shoot back,” the judge said in denying Hill’s motion to strike. Judge Dean Sword Jr. convicted Hill of maliciously shooting into an occupied vehicle.
Yesterday, the Virginia Court of Appeals reversed Hill’s conviction and dismissed the case against the gunslinger.
“We absolutely agree that the City of Portsmouth should not provide a modern-day backdrop to the shootout at the O.K. Corral,” wrote Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. in the court’s unpublished opinion. A student of the Wild West – or maybe modern movies – Alston found an “interesting historical parallel to the O.K. Corral conflict” involving the Earps, Doc Holliday and Judge Wells Spicer.
Alston quoted Judge Spicer’s consideration of the “lawlessness and disregard for human life,… the fear and feeling of insecurity that has existed” and the “supposed prevalence of bad, desperate and reckless men who have been a terror to the country,” to evaluate Hill’s claim of self-defense.
Alston said Chavis had shot and injured Hill a month earlier, and at the time of their vehicular encounter, Chavis was awaiting trial on charges resulting from the earlier shooting. Their exchange of “What’s up” on the day of the shooting “was not an exchange of pleasantries,” the court said.
Portsmouth is not frontier country, Alston said, but the lawlessness of Chavis’s actions and the threats and actual harm suffered by Hill meant his act of firing one shot at Ford’s vehicle “was a reasonable response to the harm posed by Chavis’s attack.”
By Deborah Elkins