Assault, or self defense? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Assault, or self defense?

Bobby Sanderson Bobby Sanderson
Matt Tays Matt Tays
Jerry Young Jerry Young
Patricia Sanderson Patricia Sanderson
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October 30, 2003

Tift County-- If you're attacked, do you have the right to shoot your attacker? And what if the tables are turned, and that attacker claims he was just trying to protect his own life?

A girl calls 911, trying to get help for her wounded friend. "He's been shot in the chest and the abdomen one, I'm not sure, but he's bleeding. Three times he's been shot."

Dispatcher: "You're on your way to the hospital?"

Caller: "Yes, please contact them and tell them some people have been shot with a .22."

All of this happened the night of November 17th, 2002 in a farm field in rural Tift County. It started as a gathering at a camp fire. But somehow, things got really bad.

When the gunfire stopped, Matthew Bowen, Matt Tays, Jerry Young and Phuong Luong were shot, but all still alive.

Emergency workers race to the scene, not sure exactly what happened. Emergency worker: "At least three people shot. They said he just pulled out a gun and started shooting out there."

Then it looks like a shooting rampage.

Caller: "Y'all need to look for that boy, He's running around with a shotgun and shooting my friends."

Emergencey worker: "Bobby Sanderson is going to be the suspect in a tan Expedition."

Then comes a call from Bobby's mother Patricia Sanderson. The 17-year- old boy with the gun went straight home. And from the beginning, to his mother, this was clearly self defense. "The boys tried jumping on my son. He said 'Mamma, five to eight guys just jumped on me.' His face was bloody and he was in shock."

But self defense is not the way the District Attorney viewed the case. Bobby Sanderson was jailed and charged with four felony assaults. Sanderson never denied the shootings, but claimed self defense.

And that's the matter a Tift County Jury was forced to decide in a criminal trial. Was it Assault or Self-Defense? The jury heard both sides of the story.

Fights and shooting incidents often start over the strangest little thing. In this case a portable hunting chair sparked the fight. "Bobby when he come back to get his chair, he asked the crowd 'Who threw my chair in the fire?' And one of them told them he did," said Patricia.

This is where things are not so clear. Remember the 911 tape. Caller: "Y'all need to look for that boy, He's running around with a shotgun and shooting my friends."

But the defense says that's not what happened. Patricia Sanderson says her son walked away from the campfire, but was followed back to his SUV and attacked.

That's when Bobby pulled a .22 caliber handgun. "He said 'I shot one.' I said who did you shoot. He said 'Matthew Bowen.'"

On the incident report, one of the victims, Matt Tays, told deputies "Sanderson broke loose from the fight picked up a gun from somewhere and started shooting."

Mrs. Sanderson says her son was bullied and didn't have many friends. The shooting victims and their families say Sanderson is a violent teenager and he assaulted them.

So, how does one prove self defense? We went to a criminal justice expert at Albany State University, Dr. Charles Ochie. "For you to prove self defense, you have to ensure you have no other avenue to escape the environment."

The shooting victims in this case say Sanderson had time to escape, but the jury agreed with Sanderson. After 90 minutes of deliberations they said it was not assault. It was self defense.

Why did the jury aquitt Sanderson on all felony counts? One juror, who wanted to remain anonymous, said it was a unanimous vote.

They felt Sanderson had the right to protect himself, he was outnumbered in the fight. "I feel like some of them based their decision on if it would have happen to them, what would they have done," said Ms. Sanderson. S

anderson proved his self defense case, and avoided what could have been life in prison. But the jury did convict him of possession of a firearm while under the age of 18. That's a misdemeanor. The judge ordered the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor-- 12 months in the Tift County Jail.

Victims and their families declined interviews, wanting to put this matter behind them. "The kids that got shot could have died. My son could have died," said Ms. Sanderson. Sanderson is now 18-years-old. He may not serve the whole 12 month jail sentence. He could get out early for good behavior.

While the criminal case is over. Sanderson could find himself back in court. One of the victims, Phuong Luong, who was grazed in the stomach by a bullet, has filed a civil lawsuit against Sanderson.

Luong also blames Sanderson's parents for their son's actions. They are also named in the suit.

posted at 5:05PM by dave.miller@walb.com