Murder charge dropped after prosecutors say woman killed husband in self-defense

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File

It’s been four years since Sabrina Hendley shot and killed her husband and prosecutors charged her with second-degree murder, but now prosecutors are dropping the charges after determining that Hendley was acting in self-defense at the time, and after suffering years of abuse.

According to Hillsborough County (FL) State Attorney Andrew Warren’s office, both Hendleys were highly intoxicated the night of the shooting, which happened after a small get-together that included Sabrina Hendley’s father and the couple’s next-door neighbor. At one point Mark Hendley held “a large knife up to Sabrina and was being aggressive and violent with Sabrina in [the] pool,” according to the neighbor, and Sabrina Hendley left the pool and hid from her husband behind a car in the driveway. 

The neighbor eventually left, telling Sabrina Hendley’s father to “watch those two because something bad was going to happen,” which turned out to be an accurate prediction. Around midnight, Mark Hendley got into another argument, this time with his father-in-law.

Mark pushed Irwin to the ground. According to Irwin, Mark also choked and punched him multiple times. Mark eventually left the room, and Irwin called 911 at 12:04 a.m. The occurrence of these events is undisputed. Irwin was interviewed and photographed by the police.
The photographs show several scratches and red marks that he says were caused by the altercation with Mark. Additionally, Irwin provided a sworn affidavit saying that immediately after the altercation with Mark, Mark was asking for his gun and said something about getting a gun from the bedroom. Irwin has stated that he was in fear of Mark and believed Mark’s actions placed Sabrina in danger.
The next fight was between Mark and Sabrina. According to the state attorney’s office, Sabrina wanted her husband to apologize to her father. Mark refused. At some point during the argument Sabrina picked up a gun that was on a nightstand (along with the knife that Mark Hendley had held to Sabrina earlier in the evening) and fired a single shot, striking her husband.
The events that occurred inside the bedroom were witnessed only by Sabrina and Mark, so many of the later statements from Sabrina cannot be refuted. It is unknown how the gun and knife got on the bed; however, Sabrina stated in her interview that she did not place the gun and knife on the bed. She stated that she noticed them on the bed when she was arguing with Mark. Mark was handling the large knife earlier in the evening, and there is no evidence that Sabrina had the knife at any point leading up to the shooting, which suggests Mark placed the knife on the bed. The firearm that was on the bed and ultimately used by Sabrina was registered to Mark. Mark owned several guns and was familiar with guns through his military training and personal use of firearms.
In his report, State Attorney Warren said that Sabrina Hendley was arrested and charged based “in large part on statements she gave” at the end of an hour-long interview with a police detective where she concurred with the detective’s statements that she had shot her husband while she was recalling “bad memories” when he “didn’t have anything in his hands.” Warren says those statements would tend to discount a self-defense claim, but “when understood in the larger context of the history of domestic violence, the events earlier that evening, and Sabrina’s contemporaneous statements about fearing for her life – especially considering she did not know that that Mark was dead until the very end of her interview – it is clear that she reasonably believed she was acting in self-defense.” 
Warren went on to say that in light of the evidence of years of abuse at the hands of Mark Hendley (evidence that he says wasn’t available to the state at the time of charging), the state would not be able to refute Sabrina Hendley’s claim of self-defense. In essence, there’s only one witness to the moment of the shooting, and it’s the person who pulled the trigger. That alone isn’t necessarily enough to dismiss the murder charges, but when you add in the fact that her defense attorneys were able to document a pattern of abuse against her and of violence on the part of her husband, including in the hours and minutes before the shooting took place, Warren’s decision to accept that Sabrina Hendley reasonably believed she was acting to protect her life doesn’t appear to be all that controversial. The question I have is why did it take Warren four years to reach this decision?