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State v. Thornton

Supreme Court of Tennessee
730 S.W.2d 309 (1987)


James (defendant) and Lavinia Thornton were married but had been separated for approximately six weeks. No divorce action had been filed. During the separation, James rented an apartment while Lavinia stayed in the couple’s house with their young son. James had been making a serious effort toward reconciliation with Lavinia. One night, James drove to the house, stating that he wanted to try one more time to convince his wife that his attempts at reconciliation were sincere. James noticed an unfamiliar car parked in the driveway and observed Lavinia drinking with and kissing Mark McConkey, whom James had never met. James, unnoticed by Lavinia or McConkey, decided to go to his apartment to retrieve his camera. He testified that he intended to take pictures for the purpose of showing them to his marriage counselor and possibly to use as evidence in potential divorce proceedings. When James returned to the house, he listened outside the bedroom window and heard the sounds of sexual intercourse. James burst into the house, where he found Lavinia and McConkey in bed naked. James attempted to take pictures of the two. James testified that at this point, he thought McConkey was attempting to attack him. James drew his pistol and threatened to shoot McConkey. James then fired a single shot, striking McConkey in the hip. McConkey later died from the bullet wound. James testified that he did not intend to kill McConkey; he simply wanted to prevent an attack from McConkey. James also testified that he lost control due to his outrage at the situation. A jury convicted James of first-degree murder. James appealed the decision.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Harbison, J.)

Concurrence/Dissent (Drowota, J.)

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