JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Dante Lamar Evans claims a Harrison County judge wouldn't let him tell a jury that he feared for his life at the hands of an abusive parent when at the age of 14 he shot and killed his father.
Now he'll get his chance.
The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday threw out his murder conviction and ordered a new trial. At the same time, the Supreme Court ordered the trial judge to let Evans hire an expert to make that argument for him.
Evans was convicted in 2009 of murdering his father, Darold Lee Evans, who prosecutors said was fatally shot in his sleep. The teen was sentenced to life in prison.
Prosecutors said Evans had moved to Biloxi to live with his father in a FEMA trailer park but decided to kill him because he was too strict.
Defense attorneys had sought an "imperfect self-defense" instruction to the jury. Prosecutors said — and the trial judge agreed — that a defense that the teen had an honest but unreasonable belief of danger was properly kept from the jury because there was no evidence to support it.
Justice David Anthony Chandler, writing Thursday, said Evans was entitled to an adequate expert to assist his defense.
Evans also claimed he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by his father's abuse of him and his mother. Court records showed Evans was hospitalized for depression in 2001 and was diagnosed with PTSD.
In oral arguments last fall, Evans' attorney argued the defense was denied expert testimony about what ongoing abuse would do to a child. That evidence, he said, would have raised a question about the mental condition of the defendant.
Prosecutors said the most important fact in this case was that the victim was asleep when he was shot in the head. They said the Supreme Court had never been asked to determine if a sleeping victim could have been posing a threat.
Chandler said the Supreme Court agreed with Evans that he "demonstrated an actual need for an expert in PTSD and that the trial court's denial of funds was a denial of due process."
"This lack of expert testimony deprived the jury of the information needed to properly understand the evidence regarding whether Dante's PTSD affected his mental state at the time of the shooting," Chandler said.