Harry found me on the internet as he struggled to come to terms with getting charged with a crime for the first time in his long life.
A fun-filled trip to Gatlinburg with his wife and another couple ended in disaster. A fateful encounter in a Spartanburg restaurant led to Harry being charged with:
- Pointing and presenting a firearm, a felony carrying up to 10 years in prison;
- Unlawful carrying of a pistol, a misdemeanor carrying up to 1 year; and
- Breach of the peace of a high and aggravated nature, a misdemeanor carrying up to 10 years.
Harry thought eating at the restaurant was just a quick stop to fuel the final leg of their journey home. He never expected to encounter a threatening fellow customer. In fact, we’ll call this other customer “Threatening Customer” for reasons you’re about to see.
Encounter With a Threatening Customer Leads to Arrest
While Harry and his party eat quietly, Threatening Customer sits in a nearby booth and begins spewing filth for no reason at another customer—a complete stranger. Threatening Customer accuses the other customer of staring at him, then swears at him viciously and menacingly tells him he’ll make him stop. Threatening Customer gets up and, to Harry, appears to stalk the other customer.
Threatening Customer returns to his seat still cursing loudly. Harry, a retired preacher and veteran of wars in Korean and Vietnam, won’t stand for vulgar display and isn’t afraid of confrontation.
He quietly but firmly says, “Son, there’s no need for that kind of talk.” Threatening Customer angrily retorts, “F off.” Harry makes no response.
At this point, things became a blur for Harry. Threatening Customer goes to leave but berates Harry from the cashier’s desk as he pays. Then Harry sees him move aggressively towards Harry, his wife, and his friends.
Harry fears an imminent physical attack. He pulls a pistol from his pocket. Threatening Customer runs away, and Harry leaves without further incident.
Later, his hometown police arrested him and transported him to Spartanburg.
The Evidence Was Not on Our Side
You never know what the evidence will actually reveal in a criminal case. Unfortunately, the evidence in Harry’s case undermined our defense of self-defense.
We obtained restaurant surveillance tapes from the State. They didn’t show Threatening Customer moving to attack Harry. Worse, witness statements claimed Harry stated he’d blow Threatening Customer’s head off. Another witness recalled the pistol had a laser pointer, showing Harry aimed at Threatening Customer’s head. An investigator's report described customers running for cover and diving under tables.
Chances of winning at trial were slim. We needed a plea deal.
It got worse for Harry—his prosecutor was tough. The first offer included a potential prison sentence! While Harry fretted over that, I worked to improve it. After a meeting and several phone calls, I got the prosecutor to agree to a deal of one-year probation.
One Mistake Doesn’t Override a Lifetime of Service
To do that, I highlighted extensive information from Harry’s background that shows he’s an asset to society, not a threat:
- He is a decorated combat veteran who served in the Army Rangers from 1967-78 in 2 campaigns.
- He’s a retired preacher.
- Harry paid dearly for serving our country. He’s a 100% service-connected disabled veteran with a host of severe health problems, including PTSD from “seeing things no 19-year-old should see in ‘Nam.” I pointed out that PTSD definitely played a role in these charges.
While I got the prosecutor to make the recommendation, I still had to convince a judge to order it at Harry’s guilty plea. I did.
Overall, I satisfied the prosecutor and the judge that this was a single blemish from a tiny moment—literally just seconds—in an otherwise extremely well-lived life of service to our country, our God, and others. Harry and his wife and entire family were relieved he could return to his quiet life in their small town.