When Does Self-Defense Work In The Slayer Statute

Arlington life insurance lawyers need to know how self-defense works in the Slayer Statute. The Slayer Statute is found today in the Texas Insurance Code, Section 1103.151. A case discussing self-defense is a Fort Worth Court of Appeals opinion styled, Crawford v. Coleman.
Cornelius Shoaf appeals a judgment denying him insurance proceeds because a jury found he willfully caused the death of his wife, Sandra, the insured.
Four life insurance policies were in force at the time of Sandra’s death. The policies named Cornelius primary beneficiary. The insurance companies filed an interpleader naming the parties to this suit and paid the insurance proceeds into the registry of the court. Upon the trial of the cause, the jury found Cornelius had willfully caused the death of Sandra. The trial court then found that Cornelius had forfeited his right to receive the insurance proceeds under TEX.INS.CODE ANN. art. 21.23 (Vernon 1981) which states:
The interest of a beneficiary in a life insurance policy or contract heretofore or hereafter issued shall be forfeited when the beneficiary is the principal or an accomplice in willfully bringing about the death of the insured. When such is the case, the nearest relative of the insured shall receive said insurance.
The trial court submitted one issue to the jury which inquired if Cornelius willfully brought about the death of Sandra. The following definition was given:
As used in this charge, “willfully” means:
more than intentional conduct which results from momentary thoughtlessness, inadvertence or error of judgment. It means an act or conduct committed without justification which demonstrates such an entire want of care as to indicate that the act or conduct complained of was the result of conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of the persons affected by it.

Cornelius contends the issue of self-defense was raised in the instant case because of severe wounds to his hands and arms apparently caused by being cut with a knife; that the wounds occurred in the home of Cornelius and Sandra and were characterized as defense wounds by the medical examiner.
There was no direct testimony as to what actually occurred on the night of Sandra’s death. Sandra’s sister and brother-in-law had visited Sandra and Cornelius on the night of her death and left about 11:00 p.m. The sister returned to Sandra’s home about an hour later. Apparently a struggle had occurred between Cornelius and Sandra with each being wounded by a butcher knife which was found in their home. Sandra was found in the kitchen of the home with twenty to thirty stab wounds to her chest, numerous wounds to her head, some teeth apparently knocked out, a stab wound to her cheek, a severe wound to the back of her head, and her right ear was cut. Cornelius was found the next morning asleep in the closet of a house nearby which was under construction. He was wearing only his shorts and socks; his blood soaked blue jeans were found in his home. Cornelius refused to answer any questions on the ground that the answers might tend to incriminate him.
The court held the evidence did not support an instruction on self-defense. There was only one knife used in the incident. Viewing the evidence in the very best possible light from Cornelius’ viewpoint and engaging in supposition, Sandra assaulted him with the knife without provocation. In attempting to defend himself, Cornelius was successful in wresting the knife from Sandra, but suffered severe injuries to his hands and arms in doing so. At this point, Cornelius’ contention fails. Was it then necessary in order to defend himself to take the attack to Sandra–causing her to suffer a severe blow to the back of her head, knocking out some of her teeth, cutting her right ear, and stabbing her at least twenty or thirty times? The court held that there is no supposition that would warrant the infliction of such wounds on Sandra on the theory that they were a necessary part of Cornelius’ actions in defending himself. The trial court did not err in refusing to give the requested instruction on self-defense. In addition, the definition given by the trial court stated in effect that in order to find that Cornelius willfully brought about the death of Sandra, the jury must find it was done without justification. Such an instruction permitted Cornelius to argue that the wounds inflicted on Sandra were justified–essentially the same as the self-defense theory.

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