Waving a thick code book opened to the state’s “stand your ground” law, an Orleans Parish judge acquitted Robin Washington on Wednesday in the fatal stabbing of her husband with a kitchen knife during a slugfest two years ago on Halloween morning.
Accused of manslaughter during a four-day trial last week, Washington wept in her attorney’s arms after Criminal District Court Judge Benedict Willard announced his verdict.
Washington, 39, never denied burying a knife in Bernard Washington’s thigh, but she claimed self-defense against an allegedly abusive husband. Outside the courthouse, she grinned and leaped in celebration with friends and family.
“It’s bittersweet. What the devil meant for evil, God always turns it around for good,” she said later. “I was still being abused. That’s what people don’t realize.”
Friends and relatives of Bernard Washington, who bled to death from the stab wound inflicted by his wife of two years, left the courtroom quietly.
Evidence presented during the trial by Robin Washington’s lawyer, Jerry Settle, pointed to a nasty fight inside the house in the 10900 block of Roger Drive in New Orleans East after Bernard Washington, 38, came home about 7:30 a.m.
Settle said he arrived gripping a bottle of Patron tequila and grabbed his wife’s head.
His daughter, Ta’berneka Allen, the only eyewitness, told police she heard glass breaking, then her father screaming expletives and asking, “Where’s my money?” according to a police report.
She walked into the living room to find her father punching Robin Washington in the face, the report said.
Robin Washington grabbed a round-edged steak knife from a drawer, but her husband bent it back and tossed it in a drawer, then placed her in a chokehold until she passed out. He rooted through her purse before she quickly came to and he clocked her in the jaw, Settle said.
Then she stumbled around before gripping another kitchen knife and stabbing him in the thigh, clipping his femoral artery.
He tried to swing at her again but fell.
“I’m cut; now I can’t go to work,” his daughter heard him say.
The two women tried to help, and Robin Washington tied a towel around his bleeding leg, but he fell in the street on the way to the car, saying, “I’m about to die.”
Detective Andrew Packer found that Robin Washington acted in self-defense and declined to book her with a crime. Police forwarded the case to Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office, which charged her with manslaughter more than five months after the stabbing.
Prosecutors painted her as the aggressor, bent on ending a rough, violence-riddled marriage by killing her husband.
According to a police report, Bernard Washington maintained three life insurance policies and a 401(k) retirement plan account with his wife as beneficiary. Police found that both spouses had carried on extramarital affairs.
Robin Washington never took the witness stand.
“I thought that it was too emotional,” Settle said. “She’s had a very tough time dealing with this.”
Before ruling, Willard spelled out his view of the evidence and recited the law on self-defense. Based on crime-scene photos, he dismissed claims in a statement that Ta’Berneka Allen wrote out two months later, saying Robin Washington tried to wipe up blood from the stabbing. Prosecutors had suggested an attempt to hide a crime.
The judge also cited testimony from Detective Packer, “who, by the way, became a defense witness,” the judge said.
The testimony showed that Robin Washington was “in fear of her life, that she was fighting for her life and that the victim was the aggressor,” Willard said. He added that Packer had determined the chokehold Bernard Washington used on his wife qualified by police standards as a use of deadly force.
Then he read the state code: “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 deadly force as provided for in this section, and may stand his or her ground and meet force with force.”
“That is the law,” Willard said. “I must say not guilty.”
Later, Settle praised Willard, calling him “an experienced and learned judge, and he knows a just verdict.”
He accused Cannizzaro’s office of caving in to pressure from Bernard Washington’s family to prosecute his client.
A spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office said it was “disappointed but, unfortunately, not surprised” by the verdict. “When violent crime goes unpunished, the entire community, more than any single person, is the victim. ... The entire city should be aggrieved by the outcome.”
Settle tried to temper his client’s effusive reaction to the verdict. “She’s celebrating now, but she really did love her husband,” he said. “She still loves her husband.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.