The attorney for a South Carolina man who shot two men and later burned their bodies says that his client acted in self-defense and then later panicked, the Post and Courier reports. James Edward Loftis faces trial for the killings of taxi driver Guma Oz Dubar, 46, and James Cody Newland, 32.
Loftis’ claim of self-defense reportedly helped persuade a judge to grant him bail Monday. Circuit Judge Markley Dennis noted that Loftis’ self-defense plea makes it unlikely that he is a flight risk. “The only way he will ever be able to resolve that is to … have his day in court,” the judge said.
Loftis, of Goose Greek, was expected to post his $250,000 bail and be freed sometime this week, according to the Post and Courier.
The case raises new questions about the state’s Protection of Persons and Property Act, a “Stand your ground” law that allows homeowners to use deadly force against people breaking into their homes in many circumstances.
Loftis’ account of what happened the night of March 5 has varied, according to authorities, but Loftis’ lawyer, Stephen Harris, says that there is one constant: The two people he shot confronted him in his own home. The lawyer did acknowledge, however, that what happened after the shooting was “heinous.”
The incident reportedly started when Dubar, who operated the Global Mobile Taxi Service, gave Loftis a ride home early on March 5 from a strip club in Charleston, S.C. Newland, a friend of Dubar’s, reportedly came along. According to Loftis, Dubar and Newland forced their way into his home afterward, demanding cab fare. Loftis said that he would get the money but instead came out of the kitchen with his pistol, firing eight times.
His wife arrived home to find bullet holes in the wall and blood on the floor and called the police.
Loftis told investigators that he cleaned his home with bleach and then dug a hole in the backyard and put the bodies and the dirty clothes there before burning the bodies and covering them with dirt.
“They were essentially just slow-cooked inside the grave site,” Deputy Solicitor Bryan Alfaro said at the hearing, according to the Post and Courier.
Loftis’ lawyer insists that the size 12 footprint found near the handle of the house’s door and the blood found in the doorjamb support Loftis’ claim of self-defense and that the law was on his client’s side.
“He’s a human being,” Harris said. “He freaked out and thought he was going to prison, so he tried to hide the bodies. Nobody knows how you’re going to react when you kill two people.”
Last month Harris asked Magistrate Ava Bryant to dismiss the murder charges against Loftis, but Bryant said that the matter would be left for jurors in a trial or for a circuit judge to decide. As the site notes, if Loftis files for immunity from prosecution on the state’s self-defense law, a judge would then listen to the argument during a pretrial hearing and decide whether to dismiss the charges.
Alfaro, however, said that the prosecution would be moving forward with the case because of discrepancies in Loftis’ story.
“At one point, he indicated he had let [the men] into the home,” he said. “At another point, he indicated they forced their way into the home.”
Whether or not the men did break in is reportedly a key point in the case, since the law, according to the news site, “gives residents the benefit of the doubt when they shoot someone who is clearly breaking into a home.”
“If he wouldn’t have burned those bodies, he would be a free man,” Harris said. “[The police] see this horrible aftermath and say it’s malice. It’s not malice. It’s a person who’s scared.” Loftis has not been charged with desecrating human remains, which is a felony, the site notes.
Once Loftis posts bail, he will be under house arrest outside of work, doctor visits, church and meetings with his attorney.
Read more at the Post and Courier.