Monday, September 20, 2021

Trial Begins in the “Presumption of Fear” Wrongful Death Case

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Pat Chisenhall shot his son-in-law, Christian Griggsat six times back in 2014. The crime happened at Chisenhall’s home in Angier, North Carolina. The family of Griggs has filed a wrongful death suit against the shooter, which is expected to begin soon and not last longer than one week.

Griggs story and the following lawsuit became the subject of a WRAL investigative series called ‘Presumption of Fear.’ In it, reporters Tyler Dukes and Mandy Mitchell take a closer look at the events and try to make sense of it.

wrongful death

What Happened?

Chisenhall shot Griggs, his son-in-law, to death on a Saturday morning in 2013. When questioned by the police, he claimed he thought Griggs was trying to break into the house, and he was just trying to protect his home, and daughter Katie, who was inside the house and married to Griggs at the time.

Katie and Christian had separated but had joint custody of their daughter. On the day of his killing, Griggs when to pick up his daughter for a weekend visit.

What’s the Legal Issue?

Chisenhall claims he shot Griggs out of self-defense. He was never charged with a crime for the shooting because local authorities saw no reason to do it. The investigation, which was concluded in 2014, found that Chisenhall was well within his rights to protect himself and his home, as North Carolina’s laws allow people to defend their homes through the use of firearms.

However, the Griggs family still seek justice, and the case they’ve filed brings to light a severe flaw in the state’s legislature.

What’s Wrong with the Law?

According to North Carolina Law, only two people can request an independent state investigation after a capital crime: the sheriff, and the district attorney. As such, unlike in other states, judges, members of Congress, or the attorney general can involve the State Bureau of Investigations to look at events happening in North Carolina.

So, when the Griggs family tried to get justice for Christian and appeal the decision, they soon hit a wall. Without the help of the SBI, it’s next to impossible to uncover new evidence that can shed some light as to what happened on the day of the shooting. And, since there are only two people authorized to involve the SBI, and they’ve decided the case does not warrant it, the grieving family is left with only frustration and disappointment in a system that seems designed against them.

What Can Be Done?

It will be extremely difficult for the Griggs to prove the shooter’s guilt without having the SBI review the case files, which have also been put under a gag order by a local judge. As such, not even the journalists from WRAL could access them while making their investigative piece.

The case brings to light two issues. First, the sheriff’s and the district attorney’s almost suspicious refusal to let SBI review the files pertaining to the case, and the legislature that seems to prevent the road to justice.

Either the sheriff or the district attorney must have a change of heart and request a state investigation. The case lacks several details of the events leading up to the shooting, from the moment Griggs approached the house, to the moments he was shot six times. Without a clear picture of events, their wrongful death lawyer in Houston will have a hard time proving Chisenhall’s guild, especially since local authorities have already decided he was within his right for shooting Griggs.

Then, there’s also a matter of legislature, which falls into the hands of North Carolina lawmakers. They are the only ones that can close this legal loophole, by giving the authority to request a state investigation to more than only two figures of the legal system.

Perhaps the story brought into the public eye by “Presumption of Fear” may motivate some relevant actors to take action and repair the evident flaws in the North Carolina legislature.

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