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Will a Stand Your Ground Self-Defense Claim Save Black Oklahoma Man Who Killed White Intruder? Legal Expert Says It Depends: ‘I Just Leave It to God’

With a criminal trial just two months away, Vicky Bratcher is remaining hopeful her husband, LaRue Bratcher, 34, will prevail in court.

“All of his three attorneys, they’ve all said this is a stand your ground,” Vicky Bratcher said of LaRue Bratcher, who has been charged with first-degree murder.

Around 1 a.m., on May 26, 2020, LaRue Bratcher was at his marijuana business, Premium Smoke, LLL, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, when he noticed Daniel Hardwick, 43, trying to break into his business. Vicky Bratcher says this was not the first time Hardwick attempted to break into the business.

“He was breaking in when my husband gave him his warnings and was like, ‘What are you doing?’ The man continued to break in, and that’s where my husband fired through the door. The man was unfortunately on the other side, my husband could not see what was the man’s position or anything and that’s when the bullet struck him in the head and, unfortunately, the man died,” Vicky Bratcher said.

Bratcher called police after Hardwick was shot, and when officers arrived, they learned LaRue Bratcher was operating his marijuana business without an active license, and he was arrested. Police confiscated 480 marijuana plants worth $1.5 million from Bratcher’s business.

Bratcher quickly bonded out from the lapsed license arrest, but a week later, the Oklahoma County District Attorney charged Bratcher with second-degree murder and his bond was revoked.  

“I believe it was one of the prelim hearings where [D.A. David Prater] said this is not even second degree, I need to look good into this and charge you with first degree and comes back in December and charged LaRue and changed it to first-degree murder and it just made things so much harder on us,” Vicky Bratcher said.

Daniel Hardwick (left)

On Dec. 4, 2020, Bratcher’s murder charge was upgraded to first-degree murder. Bratcher sat in the Oklahoma County Jail until his bond hearing on June 14, 2021. Judge Heather Coyle then set Bratcher’s bond amount at $400,000.

Once Bratcher’s bond was established, the Oklahoma City Black Lives Matter chapter stepped in and paid Bratcher’s bail. The BLM executive director, Rev. T. Sheri Amore Dickerson, says the BLM board voted to use its money to help Bratcher and disrupt the criminal justice system.

“Posting cash bond is a way we can disrupt the system because the cash bail system should be abolished, it should not exist, it creates a debtors prison, and those that are affected are generally Black, brown, indigenous poor people who don’t have access to resources,” Dickerson said.

She also said, “Our bail fund is primarily used around people who are being treated unjustly within the judicial system here in the state of Oklahoma.”

Bratcher’s supporters are hoping his self-defense claims under the stand your ground law helps his case, which in Oklahoma covers a person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is attacked in a place he or she has a right to be. Such a person has no duty to retreat and can meet force with force, including deadly force.

However, given Bratcher’s expired marijuana grow license, does the stand your ground cover him?

Ari Freilich, the State policy director at the Giffords Law Center, believes state prosecutors may zero in on Bratcher’s lapsed license which could disqualify him from any stand your ground claims.

Freilich also believes other factors could impact Bratcher’s case. “Even if there was no allegation that Mr. Bratcher was engaged in any ‘illegal’ activity as a result of the lapsed license, I believe he would still have to establish that he knew or reasonably believed that the intruder was illegally and forcefully entering that place of business, or instead establish that he otherwise had a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself.”

Since Bratcher was released from jail in June, he wears a GPS ankle monitor, but his wife Vicky says she’s thankful he is home surrounded by loved ones, including his five children, as he awaits trial.

“From the moment I wake up, I just leave it to God, God knows what he’s doing,” Vicky said of the upcoming trial which is set for Feb. 28, 2022.

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