Sumter, SC – July 23, 2013 – 82-year-old Alton Shelly accused last year of shooting at two repossession men and ultimately killing one was not entitled to use deadly force to protect himself or his property, in a ruling by 3rd Circuit Judge George C. James.
Shelley, however, will still await trial for a charge of murder in the shooting death of Todd Showell, 38, as a free man should his family pay the $100,000 surety or property bond granted by James on Wednesday at the Sumter Judicial Center. Shelley’s co-defendant, Denise Livingston, 44, who is charged with accessory after the fact to murder, was granted a $40,000 surety bond. Both were ordered to have no contact with each other.
James said Wednesday that Shelley is not entitled to immunity from prosecution under the state Protection of Persons and Property Act, which allows the use of deadly force in limited situations. Shelley’s attorneys, Wade Kolb and Murrell Smith, argued to James on Monday that Showell and Gerald Lee, owner of Silver Hawk Towing and Recovery, had no right to enter Shelley’s property, that their intrusion was tantamount to a forceful entry and that Shelley feared for his life.
Shelley was arrested Nov. 20, 2012, minutes after Todd Showell was shot multiple times as he and Gerald Lee attempted to repossess a truck sitting underneath Shelley’s carport. Shelley’s attorneys, Wade Kolb and Murrell Smith, argued before James on Monday at the Sumter Judicial Center that Lee and Showell had no right to be on the property and that their intrusion was tantamount to a forceful entry that allowed Shelley to retaliate in kind.
According to Shelley’s own testimony Monday, another vehicle had been repossessed by Lee, who owns the towing company that employed Showell, in September 2012. At the time, the suspect alleges he told Lee not to return to his property.
“He told me he would see me back on my property,” Shelley said.
Lee also testified Monday, saying that Shelley threatened to kill him when the two came face to face at a title loan business where one of Shelley’s vehicles had an outstanding loan. Shelley’s co-defendant in Showell’s killing and his neighbor, Denise Livingston, forged documents to put the title on a truck in her name. She then took out the loans.
Another 1994 GMC truck Shelley sold to Livingston was the subject of another title loan for which Lee was collecting on the day of the shooting. But Lee and Showell went for the wrong truck, Shelley’s similar-looking 2003 GMC pickup.
“They had no right to come and get that truck,” Smith said Monday. “That was no collateral to any debt owed to Title Max. He had told (Lee) never to come back to his property.”
Smith and Kolb contend that Shelley’s carport is part of his dwelling, and is therefore protected under the state’s Castle Doctrine, which the General Assembly codified from common law in 2010. By entering the carport even slightly when trying to tow the wrong truck, Lee forced his way into Shelley’s home after being told not to, Shelley’s attorneys said.
“But we don’t believe that a carport is part of a dwelling,” 3rd Circuit Solicitor Ernest “Chip” Finney III countered. “It is not unlawful for a repo man to enter a piece of property, because he has a lawful contract and is doing so under lawful means.”
Smith and Kolb also contend that Lee pointed a gun at their client during the altercation at the home, and Shelley said he was afraid.
“I got the gun from my house because I knew two men were outside, and I knew I couldn’t face two men,” Shelley said.
Shelley was alerted to Lee and Showell’s presence by Livingston, who he says told him two people were stealing his truck. Shelley ultimately emptied three rounds from a .357 Magnum at Lee’s tow truck, and Showell bled to death at the scene. It was the man’s second day on the job with Lee.
“He was a joy to work with,” Lee said. “We’ve been friends probably 15 years or more. He wanted to get into the repo business, so I was having him come out with me for a bit and let him see if he liked it.”
Smith and Kolb have 10 days to appeal James’ ruling to a higher court. Third Circuit Solicitor Ernest “Chip” Finney III said because of Shelley’s age, health problems and the time a full appeal could take kept him from actively opposing Shelley’s bond.
“We’re aware that process may take an extended amount of time, and the (Showell) family is aware of the process,” Finney said. “It’s a compromise, but we feel it’s reasonable.”