Teen's Self-Defense Claim for Stabbing Murder Thrown Out

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Teen's Self-Defense Claim for Stabbing Murder Thrown Out

ANNAPOLIS - 12/10/2007

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By Andy Zieminski (Capital News Service)

 The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has rejected a teenager's claim that she acted in self-defense when she stabbed a 15-year-old girl to death at a 2005 high school football game.

 The unarmed victim threw at least one punch at her killer during a fight between two groups of girls at James Hubert Blake High School in Montgomery County in September 2005.

 The teenager convicted in the murder of Kanisha Neal, identified only as "Julianna B." because she is a minor, argued that she stabbed Neal in the heart because she thought she was "in danger of imminent bodily harm," court documents said.

 A three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed Thursday with a lower court's decision that Julianna, who was also 15 at the time, was never in serious danger because she had a knife in a fistfight.

 Murder defendants must have a good reason to believe they might die or be seriously injured before they can justify using deadly force in an altercation, Chief Judge Joseph Murphy wrote in the court's opinion. The simple fear of receiving any amount of bodily harm is not enough.

 The fight was the result of a feud that started at a football game two weeks earlier when Julianna spat at Neal's older sister, according to a Washington Post article dating from the original trial.

 Julianna attended Sherwood High School and Neal attended Rockville High School. When the two confronted each other at the Blake football game, Neal threw the first punch and ripped six hair extensions out of Julianna's head as the two wrestled, according to court documents.

 At one point, Julianna produced a knife she had brought to the game and stabbed Neal, a ninth-grader, multiple times in the arms, stomach and heart.

 Julianna weighed 115 pounds, while the 5-foot-5-inch Neal weighed 225 pounds, according to court documents.

 In December 2005, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Terrence McGann ruled that Julianna committed second-degree murder in the case. He rejected the self-defense argument on the grounds that Julianna acted aggressively in the confrontation instead of trying to avoid it.

 McGann said the defendant "could have easily used the knife as a deterrent, displayed it . . . and told (Neal) to get away," according to court documents.

 Julianna, who was also found to have carried a concealed weapon on school grounds, appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest court.

 While the appeals court panel upheld the second-degree murder charge, it reversed the lower court's convictions on the weapons charges. 

 Stephen Mercer, an attorney for Julianna, declined to comment on the case.

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