JACKSON, Miss. – The way Quincy Clayton tells the story, he never meant to shoot his wife with a 12-gauge shotgun when his family was getting ready for church in Jones County on Father's Day 2009.
It was an accident, he claims, that happened after his wife cut him with a knife during a heated argument.
"She had the knife drawed back. I mean, she was coming toward me. And I threw the gun up. And when the gun went off I said, 'dern.' That's what I said. And my wife fell down," Clayton testified during his trial in 2011.
Clayton, now 49, has won an appeal of his 2011 murder conviction and life sentence in the death of his wife, Alice.
The Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a new trial in a unanimous ruling Thursday that sends the case back to Jones County Circuit Court.
The justices said the trial judge should have allowed a jury instruction that Clayton requested for his "heat-of-passion" theory of defense.
Mississippi law says killing a person is excusable when "committed by accident and misfortune, in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation."
"In sum, the rejected instruction on heat-of-passion excusable homicide correctly stated the law, was not covered by any other instruction, and had a foundation in the evidence," Justice Michael Randolph wrote Thursday in the order. "Accordingly, Clayton was entitled to have the instruction given to the jury, and the trial court committed reversible error by failing to do so."
Clayton's attorney said his client just wanted a chance to present his heat-of-passion defense to a jury.
"Now, he will have the chance to do that. This decision is one in an emerging line of cases where the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals are making clear that defendants have the right to present a defense to a jury when it is based on the facts and law," Clayton's attorney, David Neil McCarty, said in an email.
The district attorney's office didn't immediately respond to messages for comment on Friday.
The couple's daughter and Alice Clayton's sister, Mary Wash, were at the house near Laurel at the time of the slaying. Wash testified during Clayton's trial that she saw her sister swing a knife but didn't see her cut Quincy Clayton.
The court record said testimony and photographic evidence presented during the trial showed that Clayton was cut on his left shoulder, wrist and chest.
Clayton testified that he was ironing when his wife threw his clothes on the floor. As the argument escalated, he said his wife hit him, and he pushed her into a chair.
She got a knife from the kitchen and cut his shoulder before running to their bedroom, he testified.
Clayton said his wife stabbed him in the side when he went into their bedroom to get his shoes for church, so he got a 12-gauge shotgun from a hallway closet, according to the court record.
Clayton testified that when he walked back into the bedroom, Alice Clayton came at him with the knife as if she was "going for the kill."
"You know, it was an accident. I really — I was trying to bluff her so I could get my shoes to go to church," he said.
Clayton ran out of the house and drove away after the shooting, according to court records, but flagged down Deputy Brian Buxton and said: "I'm the man y'all are looking for; I just shot my wife."
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