ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — That she shot and killed a man is one of the few things not in dispute.
Why Marlina James pulled the trigger, whether she had been justified in doing so and who in the end was the real victim of what happened on a warm June morning in 2013 will likely always depend upon whom you ask, though now, finally, the court has spoken.
James, 37, was sentenced Tuesday to five years of probation and another 11 months on an ankle monitor for putting a bullet in the heart of a man she had once called her protector.
It was perhaps the most merciful outcome James could have expected for a conviction on voluntary manslaughter for the death of her live-in boyfriend three years ago. She had faced six years in prison plus an additional year for a firearm enhancement.
You may recall James from my Dec. 9 column in which she sobbed about a lifetime of abuse by men, beginning when she was a child threatened by a relative and coerced with Cabbage Patch dolls to keep quiet about repeatedly molesting her.
In testimony Tuesday, forensic psychologist Dr. James Harrington described how the relative forced the pubescent James to bathe as he watched and how from then on she believed such degradation was normal and her fault.
He described how she tested high for post-traumatic stress disorder and a lack of identity, how in adulthood she kept choosing bad men – including one charged with raping her in 2007. Rather than leave these men, he said, she tried to make amends to fix what she perceived she had done wrong to cause her abuse.
But Harrington also testified that James was unlikely to harm anybody who harmed her. Any sense of anger or aggression, he suggested, was limited to the protection of children – a protection she had not been afforded.
And so it was on that June 23, 2013, morning at her home off East Central when she said she had feared her boyfriend would hurt her children once he did away with her.
John Julius Lumpkins, 34, had moved in with her and her four children two months after the two had met through a dating website and two weeks after he had arrived from Pennsylvania for a visit.
What James had not known then was that Lumpkins was wanted in Pennsylvania on a warrant for auto theft and had numerous narcotics infractions.
Less than three months after the couple began living together, he became volatile and threatening, calling her children disrespectful and in need of an “ass whooping,” she said. She believed him to be using cocaine and drinking – something Harrington said she did not do.
“I kept trying to calm him down,” James said. “I kept thinking if I could keep him happy he would leave my children alone.”
That morning, she heard him yelling at her son about a dog. She told him to leave her children alone. So he came after her.
As she describes it, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Lumpkins cornered her in her bed. He began repeatedly slamming his thick fingers into her forehead, hitting her so hard she felt herself losing consciousness. She told Albuquerque police she feared that if she passed out he would either kill her or, worse, kill her children.
She had started keeping a loaded handgun, purchased a year before, under her pillow, afraid that one day she might not be able to protect her children without it. Lumpkins, she said, knew it was there.
That morning, as he pulled back his fist for a final blow, she reached for the gun, closed her eyes and fired. Lumpkins died quickly.
The Albuquerque police closed her case in October 2013. James was never arrested. Detectives, she said, told her the shooting was self-defense.
But in February 2015, the District Attorney’s Office in Bernalillo County chose to take her case to the grand jury.
At trial in November, the prosecutor called no witnesses and presented little evidence against her. Most of the facts in the case were stipulated to, meaning they were not disputed – by anybody but James.
“I felt like no one was listening to me,” she said.
She took the stand and pleaded self-defense. The judge didn’t buy it.
“I must find, pursuant to the stipulated facts presented at trial, that the punch did not land, that it did not connect, that it was clearly being – that it was clearly being threatened,” state District Judge Benjamin Chavez said, according to the transcript.
What is not clear is whether Chavez believed James had fired after the threat of a single blow or whether he had considered how many times she had previously been struck.
On Tuesday, James’ attorney Kari Morrissey read a letter in court written by James’ youngest child.
“I know my mom did wrong but she was saving her kids’ lives from danger,” the 10-year-old girl wrote in pencil.
The little girl had been in the bedroom during that danger.
Besides probation and the continuation of the community custody program (James has been wearing an ankle monitor since January), the judge also ordered James to undergo therapy for child sexual abuse and anger management, though James is already steps ahead of that. She and her children are already in intensive therapy twice a week. James has also been in individual counseling.
The woman who sobbed and spoke of a life where her protectors did not save her is now, finally, saving herself. On Tuesday after sentencing, finally I saw her smile.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.