Jennifer R. Marchant was acquitted in July 2017 by a New York appeals court of manslaughter in the stabbing death of her boyfriend in 2013. The court ruled she acted in self-defense and ordered dismissal of her charge. On August 25, 2017 the Niagara County District Attorney announced the appeals court’s ruling would not be appealed, ending Marchant’s case.
On February 2, 2013 Jennifer Marchant’s boyfriend Ralph Stone Jr., was drinking alcohol throughout the day. Marchant, 23, and Stone, 24, had a two-year-old daughter who lived with her. That night they got into a heated argument at Marchant’s apartment in North Tonawanda, New York. (North Tonawanda is about 14 miles north of Buffalo.)
Stone called emergency services 911. He reported that Marchant was drinking and she was on probation, and then hung up. The 911 operator, who heard a female voice in the background, called back twice. Stone hung up both times. Before hanging up the second time he told the operator that “there would be trouble” if police officers were sent to the apartment.
When “officers arrived at the apartment they heard screaming and observed a male and a female struggling with each other in a bathroom. Stone “came out of the bathroom and lunged at” one of the officers. Upon subduing Stone, the officers observed that he was bleeding heavily and there was a knife on the bathroom floor. Stone died from a single stab wound to the chest.”
Marchant told the police at the scene that Stone “was “coming after [her],” that she “thought he was going to kill [her],” and that she “did not know what else to do.” The officers arrested Marchant for Stone’s homicide.
When interrogated at the police station, Marchant said Stone “had chased her around the apartment during their argument, resulting in items being knocked over, that he had forced open the bedroom and bathroom doors, and that she had retrieved the knife from the kitchen and told him to get away from her, but he would not listen.” She also said “that she had closed herself in the bathroom again, but Stone forced open the door, shut it behind him, dared her to stab him, and pulled her head backward by her hair. She stated that she had made one last effort to get out of the bathroom, but Stone grabbed her by the hair again and she “just stuck him” with the knife.”
Toxicology tests showed that at the time of Stone’s death his blood alcohol level was 0.285 — 3-1/2 times the legal threshold for intoxication. A blood test showed Marchant was not intoxicated: she had a .06 blood alcohol level.
The investigation by North Tonawanda detectives determined that Marchant acted in self-defense. Nevertheless, the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office charged Marchant with second-degree murder.
Marchant’s case was widely publicized regionally because of the salacious detail that a year earlier she had ended her career as an adult movie actress. She used the stage name Scarlett Rouge. News stories typically included a reference to Marchant being a “porn star” or “ex-porn star,” often in the headline.
During her trial the prosecution asserted that Marchant was unjustified in using deadly force to protect herself from Stone’s assault.
Marchant’s asserted she justifiably acted in self-defense: She was in fear of her life from Stone’s drunken rage, and she had a “subjective belief that her use of deadly physical force was necessary to protect herself.”
Marchant’s account of what happened before the officers arrived “was corroborated by police testimony that the bedroom and bathroom doors were damaged in the incident and pieces of their locks were found on the floor, by medical testimony that Stone had bruising on his shoulder consistent with breaking down doors, and by blood evidence tending to confirm that Stone was inside the bathroom in front of its door when he was stabbed.”
On January 15, 2014 the jury found Marchant guilty of the lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter.
During Marchant’s sentencing hearing on March 26, 2014, Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas said she was conflicted: the Probation Department’s presentence report stated that three veteran North Tonawanda detectives were convinced Marchant acted in self-defense and didn’t commit a crime. Farkas quoted Lt. Karen Smith statement in the report: “It’s a shame she was found guilty.” The prosecution asked for the maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, but Farkas sentenced Marchant to 12 years in prison, saying, “I think there’s responsibility on both sides.”
Marchant’s father Edwin Marchant told The Buffalo News that his daughter’s conviction and sentence was “Completely unjust.” He said Stone was “an abusive, violent individual, and my daughter did what she needed to do to survive.”
On July 27, 2017 the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Fourth Department reversed Marchant’s conviction. The Court ruled her conviction was factually “against the weight of the evidence” that she acted in self-defense. Her indictment was ordered dismissed since their ruling acquitted her. The Court stated in its 3 to 2 majority ruling:
“It is hereby ORDERED that the judgment so appealed from is reversed on the facts, the indictment is dismissed …
When a defense of justification is raised, the People must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [the] defendant’s conduct was not justified. … Defendant’s statements at the scene and in her police interview evinced a belief that deadly force was necessary to protect her from decedent, and we conclude that the People did not demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that her belief was objectively unreasonable. Instead, the credible evidence established that decedent was in a drunken rage during a heated argument with defendant, that he had threatened “trouble” if the police came, that he had repeatedly forced open doors in the course of pursuing defendant through the apartment, that he was not deterred even when she armed herself with a knife, that he had cornered her in the bathroom and pulled her hair, and that he had grabbed her by the hair to prevent her from leaving the bathroom just before she stabbed him. Under those circumstances, we conclude that the People failed to meet their burden of establishing that defendant lacked a reasonable belief that decedent was about to use deadly physical force against her, even though decedent was not armed.” [People v. Marchant, 2017 NY Slip Op 5918 (NY Appellate Div., 4th Dept. 2017).]
The two dissenters acknowledged that Stone physically assaulted and terrorized Marchant in her apartment and she was unable to get away from him. However, since he hadn’t yet used deadly force against her, in their opinion she didn’t have a reasonable basis to believe her life was in danger.
Marchant was released on bond on August 2, 2017. The 28-year-old had been imprisoned for three years and seven months.
On August 25, 2017 Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek issued a statement that her office would not appeal the ruling. She said the appeals court’s ruling was based solely on an analysis of the facts, and therefore was unappealable under New York State law. Wojtaszek’s statement said, “The Court of Appeals reviews issues of law and is generally precluded from reviewing issues of fact.”
The Buffalo News contacted Jen Marchant about the DA’s decision not to appeal the dismissal of her case. Marchant replied in a text message: “I am happy that I will remain free, that the case will be closed and I’m ready to have a peaceful and successful life.”
Click here to read the ruling in People v. Marchant, 2017 NY Slip Op 5918 (NY Appellate Div., 4th Dept. 2017).
An unanswered question is why the Niagara County District Attorney prosecuted Marchant and sought the maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, when the investigating detectives determined she had not committed a crime — and the appeals court agreed with the detective’s assessment of the evidence.
Picture: Jennifer Marchant (Jen Marchant, myspace.com webpage)