Crime & Courts

Jury deciding: Murder or self-defense?

It's up to a jury to decide whether Melinda Hazelton shot and killed her husband in cold blood or self-defense.

Prosecutors charged Hazelton with second-degree murder in the shooting death of John Hazelton in 2009.

Evidence presented during the trial this week in Sedgwick County District Court portrayed John Hazelton as abusive to his wife and their daughter.

A therapist testified that Hazelton had admitted having homicidal thoughts toward his family in the days before his death.

Defense lawyer Richard Ney told the jury on Thursday that John Hazelton went to where his wife and daughter lived to kill them.

But after 19 years of abuse, Ney said, Melinda Hazelton fought back.

"This night was different," Ney said in his closing arguments.

What made it different: five days earlier, Hazelton's daughter confided she, too, has been abused by her father.

Melinda Hazelton called police and was supposed to meet with them Nov. 13 to report what happened to her daughter.

John Hazelton asked to come over and talk.

"She invited him over," prosecutor Shannon Wilson said. "He didn't have to break in."

A typical reaction by a battered woman, Ney argued.

"She loved him and feared him and hated him and loved him," Ney said. "It's not a simple thing. The human heart never is."

Hazelton testified that her husband tried to force her to take an overdose of prescription drugs at gunpoint. But he put the gun down, apparently to tend to their pet cat.

"In the middle of this life-or-death struggle, he stops to let the cat out. Really?" Wilson said for the prosecution.

Argued Ney: "He knows this woman wasn't going to do anything. She hasn't done anything of 19 years. But this time she's thinking about protecting herself and her daughter. This time she would do something."

Melinda Hazelton grabbed the gun and shot John Hazelton in the mouth. Then she called 911 for help.

The 45-year-old man died the next day in the hospital.

"Would a reasonable person believe that shooting him was the only option?" asked prosecutor Justin Edwards.

If so, he said, then Melinda Hazelton is not guilty because she defended herself.

If not, Edwards said, she's guilty of murder.

About a dozen of Melinda Hazelton's family and friends sat behind her in Judge David Kaufman's court.

No one from John Hazelton's family attended the trial.