After having his original conviction overturned for an admission of improper evidence, a former Mobile County constable has been found guilty of murder a second time for shooting and killing a man in a violent altercation on the Causeway in 2014.
Larry Lambert Sheffield, 68, was arrested July 20, 2014, after shooting and killing 53-year-old Jeffrey McMillan in the parking lot of Traders, at 4015 Battleship Parkway in Spanish Fort.
At the time of the incident, the Spanish Fort Police Department said the two men had been in a confrontation inside the bar, which allegedly began when Sheffield punched McMillan and his own wife, Sheila Sheffield, while they were speaking together.
An eyewitness told Lagniappe at the time that Sheffield told his wife ‘You can just go home with him, then’ before leaving the bar. However, according to police, McMillan followed Sheffield out into the parking lot, allegedly to speak with him, and things escalated from there.
Witnesses in the parking lot at the time testified during the first trial to not hearing any altercation before hearing the sound of Sheffield’s semi-automatic handgun going off. According to police, McMillan was shot once in the temple and pronounced dead when police arrived.
The case was presented to a grand jury after Sheffield initially attempted to claim the shooting was in self-defense. He was ultimately indicted for murder in late 2014 but remained on house arrest for two years until his case went to trial in Baldwin County in August 2016.
The defense claimed that after he was attacked by McMillan in the parking lot, Sheffield tried to defend himself but had no intention of firing his weapon. Instead, Sheffield claimed he accidentally killed McMillan when his handgun went off during an attempt to “pistol whip” him.
However, that story was contradicted by testimony from the state medical examiner who performed McMillan’s autopsy, which indicated the gun was “pressed up against the skin” when the bullet that caused his death was fired.
Sheffield was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2016, but that conviction was overturned by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in March because of a single piece of evidence — a phone call between Sheffield and his wife that was recorded while he was in jail.
In the conversation, a clearly frustrated Sheila Sheffield told her husband he had committed “cold blooded murder,” “killed innocent people” and was “a guilty son of a bitch,” according to a transcript of the call outlined in public court documents.
“You turned your jealousy on some innocent soul, took his life,” she said. “I know what happened, the good Lord knows what happened.”
On their own, Sheila Sheffield’s unsubstantiated claims would be considered hearsay, which is inadmissible as evidence in most circumstances. However, because she invoked her spousal privilege not to take the stand against her husband, she couldn’t corroborate those statements.
The law provides an exception allowing hearsay statements to be considered as evidence by the jury in situations like these, but only if the statements are contrary to the “pecuniary or proprietary” interests of the person who made them. It’s based on the theory that “people do not say things that are damaging to their interests, unless they believe that they are true.”
Because the court assumed that “a reasonable person” in Sheila Sheffield’s position would not want their husband to go to prison, the court allowed jurors to listen to the recording of Sheila and Larry Sheffield’s conversation, which was captured shortly after his arrest in 2014.
On appeal, though, Sheffield’s attorneys argued that Sheila’s comments made her sound afraid of her husband and like she wanted wanted to end their marriage — indicating that she might benefit from Sheffield’s possible conviction and prison sentence.
They demonstrated that by using other comments Sheila made in the conversation, such as “I don’t have to take your [expletive] crap no more, Larry.” In another section of the recording, Sheffield told his wife he wanted her there when he came home.
“Well, I won’t be,” she replied. “I won’t be, Larry.”
In the opinion overturning Sheffield’s original conviction, Judge J. Michael Joiner concluded that “the primary effect of Sheila’s statements was to expose Sheffield to criminal punishment” because it directly rebutted his claims of self-defense by indicating that he “was jealous and that he had no justification for shooting McMillan.”
Joiner found Sheila had likely not considered how her statements regarding McMillan’s death might have impacted her own interests at the time they were made, and therefore they weren’t reliable enough to be properly considered as evidence by a jury.
“We cannot say that a reasonable person in Sheila’s situation would have considered the risk to her pecuniary or proprietary interest so great or so direct that she would not lie,” he wrote. “Because Sheila’s hearsay statements may have contributed to the jury’s verdict, we conclude the erroneous admission of those statements adversely affected Sheffield’s substantial rights.”
After his conviction was overturned, Sheffield was released to house arrest to await his retrial, which concluded last week after four days of testimony. Lagniappe reached out to Baldwin County District Attorney Robert Wilters about the second trial, but had not received a response as of this publication’s press deadline.
Assistant District Attorneys Patrick Doggett and Teresa Heinz prosecuted Sheffield’s case and took the lead during his four-day trial last week, which ended with a second unanimous jury finding Sheffield guilty of murder on Dec. 15. He was immediately taken into police custody.
In a press release announcing Sheffield’s second conviction, Wilters’ office said McMillan’s family was “pleased with the verdict, and grateful for the time and dedication of the jury.”