New Trial Granted in Self-Defense Homicide Case

The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted a new trial Thursday to a woman sentenced to life in prison for killing her husband. Debra Head contends that she killed her husband in self-defense, but the first judge to hear her case refused to admit evidence of her husband’s history of violent behavior. In a precedent-setting ruling, the court determined that in a case in which the defendant claims self-defense, the prior abuse she suffered at the hands of her victim should be admissible in court. On May 29, 1998, Debra Head killed Harold Head after an argument over their daughter’s pregnancy. According to Head, her husband grew furious and said, “Maybe I should just take care of you guys and just get on with my life.” Allegedly, he then moved in the direction of his firearm. Terrified, Head grabbed the weapon as her husband lunged toward her, and shot the 6-foot, 278-pound man twice. She was subsequently convicted of first-degree intentional murder. Without a witness to the crime, Head was unable to prove that her husband’s actions were threatening enough to warrant the use of violence. Head claims her husband had a history of verbally and physically abusing her. In her new trial, Head will be able to present evidence of her husband’s prior abuse. Domestic violence advocates have applauded the ruling, and hope that it indicates that women who kill their husbands based on a history of previous violence could now receive the lesser conviction of second-degree intentional homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 07/11/02

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