LAVEEN, Ariz. -- A picture of Daniel Adkins, Jr. stares back at his father from the living room of the family’s small home. The letters RIP and “You will always be in our heart” are written on the photograph in white letters.
“It’s as if he’s asking me, ‘What are you going to do about it?’” said the senior Daniel Adkins.
It’s a question the father has been asking himself for more than two months, ever since his son was shot and killed shortly after leaving the house to take his dog, Lady, for a walk. Neither police nor the family have any doubt about who pulled the trigger – Cornell Jude, 22, has admitted to shooting Adkins, Jr. outside of a Taco Bell on April 3. Yet, Jude remains free – he told police he acted in self-defense -- while the Adkins family has been left stunned and holding out hope that justice will be served.
New America Media made several requests for an interview with Jude, to which he did not reply.
The case calls to mind another fatal shooting of an unarmed victim -- Trayvon Martin was killed on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman – under a similar “Stand Your Ground” law. Yet the story has hardly registered in national media, a far cry from the news frenzy and national protests that followed the Martin killing.
Like Jude, police did not immediately arrest Zimmerman for killing Martin, under the pretense that he had acted in self-defense – a legal justification valid in the state of Florida that is commonly referred to as a “Stand Your Ground” law. Only after the killing prompted protests across the country by people angry at what they perceived as a racist act and equally racist legal outcome – Martin was a young black man – was Zimmerman charged with second-degree murder.
Like Florida, Arizona has a law on the books stating that an individual does not have to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense.
The fatal encounter between Jude and Adkins, a 29-year-old man described by his mother as having the mind of a 13-year-old, lasted only a few seconds.
According to the police report, Jude was in his car with his girlfriend placing an order at Taco Bell, and was told to drive to the front window to pick up the order. As he pulled away from the drive-through, he nearly ran over Adkins – Jude said he had to step on the brakes – as he was walking his dog.
Adkins cursed loudly at Jude and approached the passenger window of his car. Jude and his girlfriend said they then saw Adkins swinging something that resembled a bat. At that point, said Jude, he shot Adkins with a pistol that he had on his lap, then called 911.
Jude told the police he was not aware that the shot to Adkins was fatal. Responding to the 911 call, police discovered Adkins lying on the asphalt, his right hand still clutching his dog’s leash.
Jude told police that he fired at Adkins because he “feared for his life, as well as for the lives of his girlfriend and their unborn baby.” Jude also told police that, “he was unable to drive away because the dog was in the way, and that he had not thought of any other options.”
But Jude also told police he didn’t believe that Adkins would have killed both of them if he had not been shot. Neither did police find evidence of a bat or any other object on the scene. When they questioned Jude and his girlfriend about it, they said Adkins might have been waving his arms, or that it they could have mistaken the dog leash for a bat.
Detectives assigned to the case recommended a charge of second-degree murder to the Maricopa County Attorney Office (MCAO) just a few days after the shooting. But no formal charges have been filed, and the Adkins family has been left to wonder why it’s taken so long for officials to take action.
“The case is under review. We’re not commenting publicly on it,” said Jerry Cobb, a spokesperson for MCAO, who confirmed that a special committee created by county attorney Bill Montgomery was examining the case to determine whether or not self-defense was involved.
Cobb also said the county has requested additional evidence from the Phoenix Police Department, and “that’s part of the reason this case will take longer to review.” Police Sergeant Tommy Thompson confirmed the department is looking for the information requested by MCAO.
“We totally understand that for a victim of a crime or family member, waiting even an hour can seem too long,” he said. “We want to make sure we pursue these cases as best as possible.”
John Hurtado, a certified law student – he can practice law with the supervision of another attorney – who works at the law offices of Brian P. Moquin in California, has taken an interest in the Adkins case. After reviewing the available evidence and observing the actions taken by Maricopa County authorities, Hurtado felt compelled to take action.
He wrote a letter to county officials, asking that Jude be charged with second-degree murder for unlawful use of deadly force. Hurtado wrote in his letter that Jude provoked the incident by almost running over Adkins. Hurtado also argued that Jude was in violation of the law because Adkins could not see he was carrying a gun, and could therefore not reach the reasonable conclusion that he should leave the scene.
“They’re giving [Jude] immunity right now,” said Hurtado.
According to Arizona law, “a person is justified in threatening or using physical force against another when and to the extent a reasonable person would believe that physical force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the other's use or attempted use of unlawful physical force.”
But, said Hurtado, there is a limit to this type of legal protection. “If it’s determined that he provoked [Adkins], he might not have the right to (claim) self-defense,” he said.
Antonio Bustamante, a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix, said cases like this are complex and outcomes can hinge on how the jury feels about guns and the use of deadly force. Often, said Bustamante, the same facts can yield completely different verdicts.
The Adkins family is hoping for a jury trial, but that will depend on whether or not charges are ever filed.
In the meantime, Adkins’ mother Antonia, a 63-year-old Mexican immigrant who has lived in the United States for more than 30 years, goes back and forth between tears and indignation. In the space between her kitchen and dining room lies a model train that Daniel had been building. At a young age, she said, her son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a number of other mental health problems.
Her dog, a Labrador named Lady, still roams the house. She said neighbors have been coming over ever since they found out about the shooting and “are surprised, because Daniel never had a problem with anyone.”
“He didn’t have a right to take my son’s life. Why didn’t he drive away?” she said. “I’m a Christian, I don’t want him to die, but I want justice.”
Daniel’s father doesn’t think race played a role in the shooting. Jude is African-American and Adkins is Hispanic. Still, he doesn’t understand why his son’s case didn’t raise the uproar that Martin’s did in Florida.
Hurtado said it’s a combination of politics and timing. He believes prosecutors are afraid of instigating a backlash from the African-American community that was already up in arms about the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Cobb denied any political motivations being behind the handling of the case.
“They don’t want what happened in Sanford to happen in Phoenix,” said Hurtado.