No one disputes Wendy Howard killed ex-boyfriend Kelly Rees Pitts after finding out he molested her teenage daughter.
But there remains disagreement on whether her actions were a crime or self-defense.
Last week, a Kern County, California jury acquitted Howard of murder but deadlocked on a charge of voluntary manslaughter. In all, the jury voted on four charges.
With the first-degree murder charge, the jury had to determine whether Howard, 53, acted with premeditation and malice aforethought – essentially the intent to kill – when she shot Pitts, 57, on June 5, 2019.
The jury found her not guilty of this charge, meaning they did not believe she made a decision to kill Pitts when she walked outside her Tehachapi home and met him in her driveway.
After acquitting her of first-degree murder, the jury then began considering lesser included offenses.
First, they deliberated on the charge of second-degree murder, which does not require premeditation but does require malice aforethought.
The jury found Howard not guilty and moved on to voluntary manslaughter. With that charge, the jury voted on two theories: imperfect self-defense and heat of passion.
In imperfect self-defense, a person believes they need to use deadly force and kills someone to stop a perceived threat, but in reality deadly force wasn’t necessary. The jury found Howard not guilty under that theory.
But jurors deadlocked 7 to 5 on the heat of passion theory, meaning seven jurors believed she unlawfully killed Pitts after being provoked to an uncontrollable rage.
Howard could be retried under that theory.
Finally, the jury rendered a not guilty verdict on involuntary manslaughter, which is charged when someone is unlawfully killed but there was not intent to kill and no conscious disregard for human life.
Howard is due back in court Nov. 18 where a decision is expected on whether she will be retried.