James David “Spanky” Stephens, Jr
Birth: March 9, 1971
Death: September 15, 2009
No obituary found.
Burial: Sunset Memorial park, Midland City, Dale County, Alabama, USA
The Dothan Eagle
Ebony Horton – Sep 16, 2010
View on DothanEagle.com
OZARK – A year-old tragedy that split a family across two sides of a Dale County courtroom ended Thursday with a man being found not guilty of his cousin’s death.
After more than three hours of deliberation, a jury found that 28-year-old Josh O’Neal Cook was not guilty of murder when he shot his cousin, 38-year-old James “Spanky” Stephens, on Sept. 14, 2009.
It was the second murder case in Dale County this year in which a jury returned a not guilty verdict when defense attorneys argued self defense.
Authorities said Cook shot and killed Stephens with a .22-caliber revolver on the night he came onto Cook’s property to protect Cook’s ex-wife Chloe Pugh, who authorities have said was Stephens’ girlfriend at the time.
Defense attorneys Robert Brogden and Jason Brogden argued Cook acted in self defense when he fired one warning shot as Stephens advanced toward him and then another shot that claimed Stephens’ life.
Stephens’ mother, Diane Hallford, said through tears that she didn’t know whether to be angry at Cook or to hug him.
“It’s been more like Spank was on trial, when we know the only reason he went there that night was to protect somebody else. But I know that if Spank was here and Josh (Cook) had shown any remorse or was the father he claims to be, that my son would have said not to send (Cook) to jail,” she said.
“It ain’t easy. Sometimes I still sit out and wait for Spank to pull up. He loved his momma, and we all loved him very much.”
Robert Brogden said Stephens risked his own life because Pugh told Stephens that Cook threatened her life and the life of her 3-year-old son on the night Stephens was killed.
The incident happened within two minutes of the Midland City Police Department, according to Brogden.
“Both Chloe Pugh and (Stephens) had opportunities where this would not have happened. She could have listened to her friend and left or called the police. He could have listened to his friend and not gone over there, or left when that first warning shot was fired,” Brogden said during closing arguments.
“If (the jury) found this man guilty, word would get out that a woman can sick her (boyfriend) on her husband, they can come to your house and you can’t do nothing about it.”
Dale County Assistant District Attorney Bill Filmore said Cook had other options besides killing Stephens on the night of the incident.
Filmore said he believed the self-defense law defense attorneys applied was not intended for such a case.
“I don’t think the Legislature’s intent (on self defense) was that for anybody who walks in your yard, you have the right to just blow them away. How about jumping in his truck and taking a right turn?” Filmore asked in closing arguments.
“What about where he shot him at in the center mass? Were there other options there? … Josh Cook committed murder. Common sense tells you that.”
Cook’s mother, Tressa Denton, said there were things everyone could have done different the night Stephens was killed.
“My son could have acted differently. If the shoe was on the other foot and I had lost him, I would be angry as well. It’s been a full year since we’ve seen our grandson. Everyone could have done things different,” she said.