Was an Early Morning Manchester Shooting Self-Defense?

Attempted Murder Conviction Reversed

In 2015 Kyree Rice was in the middle of an early morning hours wild melee at the USA Biscuit and Chicken restaurant in Manchester. He ended up shooting a man named Curtis Clay. The State charged him with attempted murder. A jury convicted him.  In May of this year, however, the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the conviction. The High Court concluded that the trial judge failed to accurately tell the jury about Rice’s right to defend himself.

Late Night Manchester Fracas

Here’s what happened. Curtis Clay and his girlfriend arrived at the restaurant just before two in the morning. Rice, meanwhile, arrived shortly thereafter with a group that included his brother Raheem, his female cousin and a friend. When Rice saw that his brother was arguing with another patron Rice exposed a gun in his waistband and cocked it. Rice then stepped outside for a moment.

Clay then saw Rice’s brother pushing their cousin to the floor. Clay, a “large and powerful man,” got in the middle of it and punched Raheem in the face. A melee broke out. Rice went back in the restaurant to see Clay knocking his friend Vasquez, a very large man himself, to the floor with one punch. He took out his gun and poked it in Clay’s stomach. Rice then claimed that Clay punched him in the face twice, knocking out a tooth. After that, Clay started beating Raheem badly. He knocked Raheem to the ground, straddled him, and was pummeling him about the face. Seeing this, Rice shot Clay twice.

A Plea of Self-Defense

At trial, Rice argued self-defense. In a case like this, even though Rice was defending his brother, it is still falls under the rules of self-defense. The question is, was Rice entitled to use deadly force?  A defendant can only use deadly force  to defend against a deadly attack — either again himself or another person. Otherwise, it is not justified.

The Wrong Jury Instruction

The defense attorney argued that Rice only used deadly force to prevent a deadly attack against his brother. The prosecutor, however, claimed that Rice used deadly force even before the shooting. The prosecutor said that Rice’s deadly force started when he put the gun into Clay’s deadly. In response, the defense attorney pointed out that displaying a weapon is not deadly force. Only using it is. He asked the judge to tell the jury that the prosecutor was wrong. That, in fact, the only deadly force that Rice was used was when he shot the gun.

This was an important point because if Rice used deadly force before Clay started pummeling his brother, it would greatlyweaken his self-defense claim. If the prosecutor was right that Rice starting using deadly force before Clay did, the jury was almost certain to convict Rice.

The Supreme Court agreed with the defense lawyer. The trial judge should have told the jury that the prosecutor was wrong in saying Rice had used deadly force by shoving the gun in Clay’s stomach. This was an important error and the Court decided Rice should have a new trial.

The Morals of the Story Are …

There are a few lessons to be learned here from a legal perspective. One is that a defense lawyer should always be prepared with full knowledge of the statute. A law specifically defined deadly force in a way that contradicted the prosecutor. The prepared defense lawyer knew this off the top of his head and was ready to ask the judge for the right jury instruction.

Second, self-defense cases are much more likely to go to trial then other cases. The reason why is wild fights often happen over a matter of seconds. Twenty different witnesses may recall the events in twenty different ways making hard to get to the exact truth.

Third, New Hampshire draws a key distinction between using and merely displaying  weapon. Other less “gun friendly” states may have much less favorable laws and the result may have been much different.




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