PLAINFIELD - A new trial has been ordered for a New Jersey man sentenced to six decades in prison in the stabbing death of his girlfriend more than a decade ago.
Anthony James was convicted of murder and weapons counts in the September 2011 slaying of 48-year-old Audrey Tanksley, who authorities said was stabbed 94 times in their Plainfield home. James asserted that Tanksley was the aggressor during an argument, but jurors convicted him after deliberating for just 45 minutes.
But an appeals court Thursday overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial, saying a Union County prosecutor misstated New Jersey's law on self-defense and the trial judge compounded the error while instructing jurors.
Prosecutors argued that the force James used was not reasonable and the law required people not to respond to a minor attack with deadly force but to retreat if possible. The judge also said James had a duty to retreat before using deadly force if he was able to do so safely.
The appellate court, however, said state lawmakers in 1999 eliminated a requirement to retreat in one’s home, a change prompted by concern for victims of domestic violence who attempt to defend themselves from attacks in their own homes. The judge’s instruction "imposed a duty" on James to retreat "where none existed," it said.
The appeals court acknowledged what it called a "staggering" number of stab wounds on the victim and said it was not expressing an opinion on the credibility of a self-defense claim in the case. But jurors received incorrect instructions and a new jury needs to hear the argument, the court said.
The county prosecutor's office declined comment on the decision. The state public defender's office, which argued the appeal, hailed it as underscoring "the necessity for legally correct and understandable jury instructions."
James had been sentenced to 60 years with a minimum term of more than 50 years before he would be eligible for parole.