A Baldwin County jury heard opening arguments Monday, April 7, 2014 in the case against Ono Island resident, Steven Pinson. Pinson is accused of shooting a tourist after what Orange Beach Police called a road rage incident in August of 2012. The shooting happened at a stoplight on Perdido Beach Boulevard. Defense attorneys are citing Alabama’s stand your ground law as a legitimate claim to self defense.
Baldwin County prosecutors say Steven Pinson had no right to shoot tourist Damon Hembree despite a heated exchange of words and erratic driving on the part of both men. Prosecutors say the incident began as Hembree, his wife and two daughters drove across the Perdido Pass Bridge. They say Pinson was upset that Hembree was driving too slowly and cut him off, forcing Hembree into oncoming traffic. At that point both sides say there was a period of erratic driving and cursing back and forth. It’s when both vehicles reached the traffic light at Hwy. 161 that prosecutors say Hembree got out of his vehicle and approached Pinson’s truck. That’s when they say Pinson shot Hembree once in the chest.
“Both people could have used better judgment, but you can’t shoot people because you’re angry with them and that’s the state’s position,” said Baldwin County Assistant DA, ChaLea Tisdale.
Hembree’s wife took the stand and said that after being forced off the road her husband went from being scared to angry. She said she asked him to stop pursuing Pinson, but he would not. She said her husband got out of the car once they were stopped behind Pinson at the red light and approached him, cursing at him. It’s when Hembree turned to walk away that she said she heard a “pop” sound and saw her husband grab hir chest. He was life-flighted to the hospital and was released the next day. The bullet was removed from his side over a week later.
Pinson’s attorneys contend he acted in self defense saying that Hembree’s aggressive manner caused Pinson to fear for his safety. Under Alabama’s stand your ground law, they say he was well within his rights.
Prosecutors say there can be no claim to self defense if you initiate the confrontation and they contend that that’s what Pinson did when he cut off the Hebree’s vehicle. The defense disagrees.
“We don’t feel that we initiated. That’s going to be a fact question for the jury and we also believe the facts show that at the time the incident occurred, they’d both come to a red light. Things had stopped and Mr. Hembree, clearly by his own admission and the testimony will be that he got out of his vehicle and approached our client’s vehicle,” said Pinson’s defense attorney, Steve Salter.
The prosecution has more than 10 witnesses to call in the case including Hembree’s two daughters before they hand it over to the defense. The jury will have to decide if Hinson is guilty of Assault 1st, Assault 2nd or not guilty. The trial is expected to last most of the week. If found guilty, Pinson could face anywhere from one to 20 years in prison.
Steven Pinson served as a conservation officer for the state of Alabama for 25 years.