When I fell, I fell on my arm, and I caught myself. I never was really flat on the floor. And then after—after I—a few seconds, that’s when I reached for the gun and begin to get up. And before I got all the way up, I shot the gun. And a guy jumped; either he was jumping to get to the floor so he wouldn’t get shot, or he was trying to knock the gun out of my hand. And the gun went off two other times, and at that point I turned around, and I ran.
He insisted in response to questions that his intent was not to kill anyone. “They were never aimed to no particular person. And the fact that the guy got killed, it was not on purpose, sir. My intent was to get the crowd up off me.” Joseph said he then ran not because he felt guilty but because he was terrified, “I was scared. I never felt like that again in my whole life. I was afraid.”
In his closing arguments, Joseph’s attorney argued that the shooting was essentially an act of self-defense:
Is there anyone of you who would have said, no, I would have stayed there and got beaten? He did what any reasonable person would have done at this point. He took out the gun to defend himself.
Joseph White may be guilty of something, he had no right to bring this gun onto school property. That’s a separate charge, though, unlawful use of a weapon on school property.
The prosecution responded:
How can you say he’s afraid when somebody else is hitting the ground, or running, because somebody is yelling he has a gun, and that’s why he did not truly then believe he had the right to self-defense, that he was mad, and, unfortunately, he had that loaded gun in his pocket.
The prosecution view was that:
There is only one person in the whole group that has a dead body to his credit, and that’s that guy standing right over there, Mickey Cobra, who settles a dispute with a gun, and you cannot let him do that, and that’s going to be your decision, and what you will decide is your message to the rest of society about what is, or is not, going to be tolerated.
The bottom line to the defense was that if the jury did not come back with a verdict of not guilty based on self-defense, then in the alternative they could reach a verdict of guilt based on a lesser charge than first degree murder, for example, second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.