A former Louisiana deacon who murdered his estranged pastor in front of his shocked congregation nearly five years ago was found not guilty of manslaughter this week after he testified that the pastor had repeatedly raped his wife in their home.
On Tuesday, the former deacon, Woodrow Karey, 58, testified that on Sept. 27, 2013, he walked into the Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and shot the Rev. Ronald J. Harris Sr. as he led a worship service. When Harris fell to the ground, he fired another round into the pastor to make sure he was dead as at least 50 shocked worshipers watched, including Harris' family members.
Karey testified that the last thing his wife told him before he shot Harris was that the pastor had come into their home and raped her. He told jurors that "the pastor had raped his wife and she couldn't get away from him."
Karey testified that the day everything started he was watching football with his son and grandchild when he received a vulgar text message that was meant for his wife. It contained derogatory statements about Karey and his wife including one statement that said: "Your family will suffer."
Karey told jurors that he took that statement as a threat and explained that he believed Harris had raped his wife continuously. He also took nude photos of her, physically abused her, and threatened her with a gun. He testified that he believed he and his family were in danger.
After about three hours of deliberations on Wednesday, a jury found Karey not guilty of manslaughter which stunned local prosecutors.
"I'm extremely disappointed for the family, for the victim's family, for all the congregation, for all the children that were in that church, all the people that were in that church, they're scarred for life, our community, I think it's legalized murder. That's what it is," Calcasieu First Assistant D.A. Cynthia Killingsworth told KPLC 7. She said she had never been so disappointed in a verdict throughout her career as a prosecutor.
Killingsworth and family attorney Ron Richard explained that the jurors had asked the court to define the term "imminent danger" which would be a reason to justify killing.
"They apparently did not know what the word imminent meant. How can this be justifiable. It's not. And apparently the jury didn't understand that. And they let him go," Killingsworth said.
"It's befuddling is, I suppose, the word I would use. I think everyone understands what an imminent danger is. If you're at an intersection and someone's running a red light coming at you, that's an imminent danger. If you're walking across and intersection and someone is three blocks away, that's an eventual danger. The pastor was no imminent threat to anyone in that family and that's the word's of Woodrow Karey," Richard said.
Todd Clemons, Karey's defense attorney, said he was happy about the verdict because a good man got justice.
"We're just thrilled for Woodrow Karey, he's a very good man. He got justice and we're pleased for him. He got put in a position to do what he had to do to defend his household, to defend his wife, to defend himself, and justice was served. Ronald Harris was a threat to him. He was in imminent danger of receiving bodily harm based on the threats that Ronald Harris made to his wife," Clemons said.
"We're just pleased for Woodrow. He's got such a big heart. We love him to death, we love his family, and we're just overjoyed at the verdict. It's the right verdict. This is justice," said Adam Johnson, another defense attorney, said.