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Grand jury rules shooting was self-defense

Originally ran here as:
"Grand jury rules fatal shooting was self-defense"
by Eric Olson, Staff Writer
The Herald-Sun
February 19, 2002

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA -- James Hill Jr. acted in self-defense when he shot and killed a man who was trying to break into his Fayetteville Street home Christmas Eve, a Durham County grand jury ruled Monday.

Hill, who had been facing a second-degree murder charge, was beaming as he stood outside the Durham County Courthouse Monday evening with his attorney, James "Butch" Williams.

"I was relieved, very much so," Hill said. "But it's regrettable that a life was lost out of a situation where I was forced to do it."

Hill, a 31-year-old employment counselor, was arrested Dec. 24 at about 2 a.m. He called 911 to report that he had shot a man who was trying to break into his house at 3303 Fayetteville St. He spent four days in the Durham County Jail and was unable to celebrate Christmas with his wife, whom he married in November.

One of the alleged burglars, Jermaine Eric Hart, 25, died of his wounds at Duke University Hospital.

On Monday, Durham District Attorney Jim Hardin Jr. said he offered the grand jury a presentment -- basically asking jurors what course of action to pursue -- because he could not determine if Hill had used excessive force.

"It's a very good tool for law enforcement to ensure we're doing the right thing," Hardin said. "The only issue was whether his use of a firearm under these circumstances was reasonable in light of Mr. Hart's use of a brick in a potential attack."

In most cases, the district attorney presents evidence in a particular case and requests that grand jurors return an indictment, or charge, against a suspect.

But on Monday, Hardin said: "When I looked at it, it was clear to me that it was not murder but a concept based on excessive force. It was submitted to the grand jury with the idea that they could look at the evidence from the state's perspective."

The 18 members of the grand jury could have requested that more evidence be sought before reaching a decision or that Hill be charged with Hart's death, Hardin said.

A presentment is rare, but one was used in October when Durham gas station clerk Atta Rehman chased and shot Rodney Lamont Cameron after Cameron allegedly robbed the store.

The pair exchanged gunfire about a block away before Cameron was shot. The grand jury in that presentment ruled Rehman acted in self-defense and indicted Cameron on a charge of armed robbery

"Eighteen people evaluating the facts is a very good way to resolve some of these very close issues," Hardin said of Hill's case.

Williams said "a tremendous burden has been lifted off" Hill with the decision.

"We feel pretty good and we appreciate the efforts of the district attorney's office and the grand jury in sifting through all the evidence and making the proper determination that Mr. Hill acted in self-defense," Williams said.

James Hill Sr. said he never doubted his son's innocence.

"I know that my son is truthful in everything that he does and that he was where he was supposed to be," he said. "The victim should've been with his family."

Both father and son expressed remorse and said they would pray for Hart's family.

"I'm just so happy that this thing is finally over with," said the elder Hill.

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