An Oklahoma minister who was charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of his son-in-law was convicted of a lesser charge.
Michael Scott Elder, 54, claimed he was acting in defense of his daughter when he shot and killed his son-in-law, Gary Davidson, 27, outside his Oklahoma City home. Prosecutors, on the other hand, said that the use of lethal force was unwarranted against the unarmed man and charged Elder with first degree murder. However, jurors were allowed to consider the lesser charge of first degree manslaughter as an alternative charge.
In the case, Elder’s daughter April and Gary Davidson were going through a divorce. Gary picked up the couple’s daughter from daycare, but refused to release her to her mother, because April had the couple’s truck. The two agreed to exchange the daughter for the truck, and on the day of the shooting, Elder accompanied April Davidson to return the truck to Gary and pick up her daughter.
Elder and April Davidson say that the exchange did not take place as expected. Instead, they say, Gary did not relinquish the girl, but instead ran to the truck and climbed in with April. She testified that he grabbed her around the neck, and Elder testified that he thought he saw a weapon in Gary’s hand. He fired three shots, the third of which fatally wounded his son-in-law.
Prosecutors argued that there was no evidence of a weapon and that Elder did not need to shoot Gary Davidson in order to protect his daughter. They note that April Davidson changed her story multiple times, and say that she lied to protect her father.
Defense attorneys argued that Gary Davidson had “toxic” levels of meth in his system, and because he was high on meth, he had a “crazed” look in his eyes which made Elder fearful for his daughter’s safety. They contrast Davidson’s character with Elder’s–a pastor who intended to go to church with his grandchildren as soon as he and his daughter picked up his granddaughter.
Ultimately, the jury did not find that Elder was guilty of first degree murder or murder with “malice aforethought,” but that he was criminally responsible for Gary Davidson’s death. After ten hours of deliberation, they found Michael Scott Elder guilty of first degree manslaughter.
The jury recommended a sentence of 15 years in prison. Formal sentencing is scheduled to take place in late April.
There are three criteria which classify a killing as first degree manslaughter:
- When a death occurs in the commission of a misdemeanor
- When a person takes another’s life without in the “heat of passion” without a plan to kill, but in a “cruel and unusual” manner or with a dangerous weapon
- When a person unnecessarily kills another in resisting an attempted crime or after the attempt has failed.
First degree manslaughter is punishable by a minimum of four years in prison.