Jury acquits man who fatally shot lover's husband

Associated Press
Published May 3, 2005

MARIANNA - A man was acquitted of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of his lover's husband who forced his way into a mobile home where he found the pair partly undressed.

Robert Jernigan, 70, admitted killing Curtis Ryals, 52, but jurors agreed Saturday he was justified in shooting the intruder, who also tried to strangle him June 21 in nearby Cypress.

"If this is not self-defense, then what in the world is self-defense?" defense lawyer Walter Smith said in his closing argument.

Assistant State Attorney Mark Sims contended the shooting was unjustified, because Ryals, drunk after consuming a half bottle of whiskey, had stopped his attack.

"It was over," Sims said. "The man was leaving."

Ryals' wife, Barbara, worked for Jernigan at his concrete lawn ornament and statue business.

Her husband crashed his truck through a fence and broke in to find her with Jernigan. Ryals told the older man "I could kill you" or "I ought to kill you," then attacked him, according to testimony. As they struggled, Jernigan grabbed a revolver from under a mattress.

Ryals retreated into the kitchen, picked up a shotgun and put a round in the chamber.

Jernigan fired three shots. One killed Ryals.

Jurors heard conflicting evidence on whether Ryals was shot in the home just outside the doorway or while running away.