Lawyer uses ‘Will Smith defense’ for murder defendant

Dan Abrams Live

(NewsNation) — A lawyer in Virginia used what some are referring to as the “Will Smith defense” for his client accused of murder. Legal analysts say this may be just the beginning of the defense strategy stemming from a lack of charges after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars on Sunday.

According to the Roanoke Times, 25-year-old William Ray is charged with two counts of first-degree murder on accusations he killed his fiancé, his mother and her boyfriend in March 2020. Investigators say Ray stabbed the boyfriend 20 times with a folding knife and confessed to the crime.

Ray’s defense pushed to decrease the severity of his charges to manslaughter or second-degree murder. In closing arguments Tuesday, Defense Attorney Derek Padgett asked the jurors if they have ever “snapped before” and said “things you wouldn’t ordinarily do you do – like Will Smith. I bet he wishes he could take it back. But he can’t. You can’t unbreak a stick.”

The jury didn’t buy Ray’s defense, bringing back a guilty verdict on the murder charges in around two hours. But legal analysts say the “Will Smith defense” could be heard in courtrooms across the country.

Jesse Weber and Brian Buckmire, analysts for the Law and Crime Network, weighed in on the tactic while appearing on Dan Abrams Live.

Weber thinks the “Will Smith defense” will definitely be used moving forward.

“What you’re going to see is it normalize that behavior, particularly, and I think everyone was set with the wrong impression here, that if a victim doesn’t press charges or a victim doesn’t report or a victim doesn’t cooperate with police, that means oh, perpetrator’s let off the hook because Chris Rock didn’t press charges. Do you know how much I have a problem with that? They didn’t need him to move forward with this investigation. They should have arrested him [Will Smith] and this is what we’re going to see. Not only the ‘I snapped defense’ but if the victim doesn’t somehow cooperate with investigators, their hands are tied. That’s not the case. That’s not how the law works,” Weber said.

Criminal defense attorney Brian Buckmire said while the “Will Smith defense” may be bizarre, he believes it could eventually be substituted for what attorneys call the “heat of passion” defense.

“The ‘Will Smith defense’ applied here is bizarre. But what I do think can happen or probably will happen, to your point, Dan, is this defense is going to be substituted for what defense attorneys have been using since I was in law school. It’s the typical law school argument of the heat of passion,” Buckmire said.

He added: “The application of it here [William Ray case], especially knowing the context with Will Smith and Chris Rock here, are ridiculous to compare. But I can see in some cases this being the now ‘Will Smith defense.’”

Some have questioned if the incident at the Academy Awards will set a precedent in prosecuting similar cases.

“I think people are going to look at this and say, ‘Well if he can go on national television in front of the entire world and slap another comedian who was defenseless, what can I do now?’ The idea is if you want probable cause to investigate it, we all saw it […] we all watched that in real time,” Weber commented.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences claims Smith was asked to the leave the Oscars after the on-stage slap and refused. The group says Smith violated the Academy’s code of conduct when he slapped Rock on Sunday night and recognized they could have handled the situation in a different way.

© 1998 - 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. | All Rights Reserved.

Trending on NewsNation

Elections 2022

More Elections 2022