Five Shots at Close Range
Lessons from the Stephen Maddox Case
Part 5: Post-Incident Actions
Most of the cases we explore in The Four Elements of Self-Defense are stories we have followed in the news. Stephen Maddox, however, is a CCW Safe member, and he asked us to tell his story so that others could learn from his case. In this article, we will explore how Maddox’s post-incident actions affected the his legal defense.
Kelly Wilkerson attacked Stephen Maddox three times the night of October 17, 2015 during a motorcycle rally in Wilson, North Carolina. In the first two confrontations, Wilkerson, six-foot-three and nearly 300 pounds, physically overpowered Maddox, and it took three or four bystanders to pull him off. When Wilkerson attacked the third time, Maddox fired his .44 revolver, twice as Wilkerson charged toward Maddox, and three times after being wrestled to the ground.
When Maddox retreated around a corner, his cell phone rang. It was a 911 operator calling him back regarding a call Maddox made moments before, a call that had been interrupted by the violent encounter.
“I just got attacked,” Maddox told the operator. “This guy attacked me, and I had to shoot him.” He recounted the first attack of the evening that occurred at the convention center. “He attacked me in the bathroom. When I came outside, he jumped me. I know the guy.”
Maddox’s phone call was a near-textbook example of how to report a self-defense shooting to authorities. The call occurred immediately after the confrontation (Maddox initiated it just prior to the confrontation, in fact). He made a clear declaration that he was attacked and that he shot in self-defense. When the operator gave Maddox instructions on how to engage dispatched police officers and surrender his weapon, Maddox complied perfectly. The way Maddox handled the call was so by-the-book that prosecutors actually tried to use it against him at trial, suggesting to jurors during closing arguments that “he knows what language to use.”
Despite the prosecutor’s suggestion, Maddox’s initial interactions with authorities worked to his benefit at trial, but what he did next caused him big problems. Confident that his was a clear case of self-defense, and unaware that Wilkerson had died from his wounds, Maddox consented to hours of recorded interviews with investigators -- without the advice of an attorney. “He didn’t know how critically important the next three hours would be,” says Don West, National Trial Counsel for CCW Safe. “The prosecutor cherry-picked his statements and used them out of context at trial.”
Having just been through a series of traumatic events, Maddox was in no condition to make accurate statements about what had just occurred. Don West says Maddox “made incorrect statements about things he absolutely knew, like his address and the number of children he had.” If he got those details wrong, it’s not difficult to imagine that some of his recollection of the events connected with the shooting would be compromised as well. Law enforcement pounced on the inconsistencies in Maddox’s statements, and the discrepancies convinced them the shooting was murder rather than self-defense.
West also notes that Maddox’s demeanor during the interview, which was played in its entirety to the jury, didn’t seem to be emotionally appropriate for the circumstances. His affect was flat and matter-of-fact. That type of confusion and emotional displacement is not uncommon, however. After a shooting, the shooter is almost always psychologically and emotionally impaired. When police officers are involved in a shooting, it’s standard policy for the officer to have two sleep cycles, 48 to 72 hours, before testifying about the shooting. They understand that statements taken earlier are frequently riddled with inconsistencies, just as Maddox’s statements were.
Luckily for Maddox, the jury forgave the discrepancies in his statements and delivered an acquittal. Nonetheless, there is a distinct possibility that without Maddox’s muddled interview, investigators would have had nothing to dispute his self-defense claim, and the entire 21-month prosecution may have never happened at all.
The lesson for the concealed carrier in this case, as in so many cases, is that you should not give detailed statements to law enforcement until you have had time to recover from the trauma and consult with a lawyer. Maddox was confident in his claim, and he thought his cooperation would help exonerate him. He had no idea it would nearly cost him his freedom.
In the next installment of The Four Elements of Self-Defense, we’ll look at the verdict in the Maddox case summarize the lessons for the concealed carrier.