A Greenwell Springs woman roused from her slumber two years ago to find a bloodied and allegedly intoxicated man on her front porch now faces a reduced charge for her decision in the pre-dawn hours to shoot the Livingston Parish man.
Sheila A. Nichols, 59, was indicted in 2013 on an aggravated second-degree battery count for shooting the man in the arm, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. But this week East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors charged her instead with aggravated assault with a firearm — a lesser felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“They’re trying to take out the intent,” Nichols’ attorney, Tommy Damico, said Tuesday of the new charge filed against his client, who has maintained she believed the man was trying to burglarize her home. “She didn’t intend to do anything.”
Assistant District Attorney Will Morris, who noted that aggravated second-degree battery involves the intent to inflict serious bodily injury, said prosecutors felt that aggravated assault with a firearm was the more appropriate charge given the facts of the case.
“The decision was not made without his involvement,” Morris said of the victim.
Damico contends Nichols, who lives alone, acted in self-defense and is protected by the state’s stand-your-ground law and so-called “castle doctrine.”
Nichols rejected an offer to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge in the Nov. 24, 2012, shooting of John Butler Reeves III, added Damico.
“She’s not going to plead to any kind of criminal charge,” he said. “My client was justified in taking the actions that she did.”
Reeves, though, contends in a November 2013 lawsuit against Nichols that she used “unreasonable force” that was “clearly excessive and careless.”
In the suit, Reeves says he was a passenger in a car involved in a single-car accident about 3 a.m. Reeves said he sought help for his injuries at the closest house to the crash scene — Nichols’ home on Magnolia Bridge Road.
Reeves said he walked onto the lit front porch to knock on the door when he realized he had cellphone service, so he stepped off the porch to speak to his mother, whom he had called for help.
An armed Nichols “charged out of the house” without provocation or warning and followed an unarmed Reeves into the front yard with her gun pointed at him, he alleges in the suit.
“John Reeves immediately put his hands up in the air and began backing away, telling Ms. Nichols repeatedly that he wasn’t going to hurt her and that he needed her help because he’d just been in an accident,” the suit states. “Ms. Nichols began shouting ‘get out of my (expletive) yard’, at the same time, firing the gun two to three times, thereby striking Mr. Reeves in the right forearm, three to four inches from a direct hit to his face.”
In a court-filed response to the suit’s allegations, Damico said Nichols was asleep in her bedroom in her locked house when her security alarm activated. Nichols believed Reeves and his companion were trying to break into her rural home, he said.
Reeves was “extremely intoxicated” and refused to remove himself from her porch after repeated warnings that he should leave, the filing states.
“Despite repeated warnings that she was armed, (Reeves) simply stepped off the yard into the shadows, wherein his companion also was located, and refused to move when she opened the door and stepped into the yard to tell them that they better leave because she was in fact armed,” Damico wrote.
Nichols then “fired a warning shot not aiming at” Reeves, he stated.
Damico said Tuesday that Nichols, who called 911 after the shooting, told police she fired to scare the two men. Nichols did not know she had wounded one of the men until later, he added.
Damico also said blood on Reeves’ face made it appear to Nichols that he was wearing a mask. Nichols’ attorney also alleged that both Reeves and his companion were highly intoxicated.
Damico maintains that Nichols was defending and protecting herself and her property.
One Louisiana statute dealing with stand-your-ground reads: “A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is in a place where he or she has a right to be shall have no duty to retreat before using force or violence … and may stand his or her ground and meet force with force.”
Louisiana’s castle doctrine, which gets its meaning from the phrase “a man’s home is his castle,” permits the use of physical force to protect one’s self and property from forcible crimes.