WILMINGTON — No charges will be filed against Stephen Roger Hughes II, the man who shot and killed Marine Corporal Edwin Estrada. According to District Attorney Ben David, there is not enough evidence to convince a Grand Jury to indict Hughes on a murder charge, given the state’s laws governing use of force in self defense.
David described it as a “highly cautionary tale,” referring to “those who walk around highly intoxicated” as appearing to be a threat.
Though the Wilmington Police Department have closed the case, several key questions remain.
Estrada was stationed with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464, stationed near Jacksonville. Originally from Los Angeles, Estrada joined the Marines in July of 2014. He was recently promoted to Corporal, in July of last year. Estrada had been awarded the Good Conduct Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and National Defense Service Medal.
Estrada was in Wilmington on leave for the Marine Ball held that weekend. He never made it back to base. On Sunday morning, Nov. 19, 2017, Estrada was killed. David said witnesses who had seen Estrada prior to his death reported he was heavily intoxicated.
Estrada was killed, not murdered, according to the District Attorney’s office.
Video: At a press conference on Thursday, Feb.1, District Attorney Bed David laid out the case against Stephen Roger Hughes, followed by the reasons he is protected by the Castle Doctrine and the defense of habitation laws.
David said that under North Carolina law Hughes, 36, used lethal force legally when he shot Estrada – twice, including once in the head – outside the basement entrance of the building where he was living. According to David, when Hughes gave an interview to the District Attorney’s office, his account of the incident was perfectly consistent with a legal use of force under the state’s defense of habitation laws. Hughes apparently claimed Estrada attempted to gain access to the building and, fearing bodily injury, Hughes defended himself.
The 2011 laws expanded the state’s “Castle Law” – allowing lethal force to defend a residence – to include vehicles and workplaces (see G.S. 14-51.2, 14-51.3, and 14-51.4).
According to David, these laws apply even though Estrada was unarmed.
David added that the defense of habitation laws also apply even though Estrada never entered the building at N. 273 Front St., an optometrist’s office operated by Dr. Tiffany Jackson, where Hughes maintained a basement apartment.
According to David, Hughes said he operated a security business out of the apartment, making the outside rear area of the building where Estrada was fatally shot and killed part of a business workplace.
Hughes has no criminal record, David said.
Hughes, who took his Basic Law Enforcement Training at Brunswick County Community College in late 2015, would be familiar with the 2011 laws. He appeared to reference them indirectly when he called 911 after shooting Estrada, calmly telling a dispatcher: “I just used lethal force on an intruder on my business.”
Listen: Stephen Roger Hughes II calls 911, several minutes after shooting Marine Corporal Edwin Estrada.
First and foremost: it remains unclear what exactly lead up to Estrada’s death. The last known whereabouts of Estrada, according to David, was at around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning when he left the hotel where he was staying.
It is not known how Estrada ended up behind the building at N. 273 Front St.; the area is heavily fenced off due to the demolition of the old Water Street parking deck. The area is inaccessible, as indicated in the 911 call where Hughes describes attempting to pull down the fence to allow police officers into the area.
Hughes has declined to comment, and the District Attorney’s office has released only very short excerpts from Hughes’ testimony.
The North Carolina’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has not yet released the autopsy results or any specific information on the nature of his gunshot wounds, evidence of a struggle, or any drugs or alcohol in his system.
According to Ben David, the first gunshot wound struck Etrada in the cheek and traveled through his face, exciting near the back of his neck. David said it was the medical examiner’s opinion that this was not a fatal or incapacitating wound.
The second gunshot wound, resulting from a shot fired three seconds after the first, struck Estrada in the base of the neck and traveled upwards. David would not speculate on the exact trajectories of the bullets based on Estrada’s wounds. However, he called the idea that Hughes had shot Estrada in the back a “rational inference.”
David reiterated that the scene of Estrada’s death – at the time of the shooting – was dark and that, by Hughes own account, “he was not sure where he was shooting at Estrada.”
This was not Hughes’ first run-in with the law. On April 24, 2014, Hughes’ pregnant girlfriend called Duplin County’s 911 dispatchers. Neither the Rose Hill Police Department or the county maintain audio records that far back, but the county dispatch office kept a written record of the call. The record is heavily redacted but indicates that Hughes had multiple guns and knives in his residence. When his girlfriend tried to retrieve her belongings from the house, he threatened her.
No charges were filed against Hughes at the time, and it is not clear if the Wilmington Police Department or District Attorney’s office followed up on the incident.
Although Hughes was never charged – or even named – in the death of Estrada, he did seek legal counsel. Hughes retained the services of attorney Thom Goolsby, a former North Carolina State Senator and retired Marine Corps officer.
Goolsby did not say what the extent of his legal services to Hughes had been. Goolsby, who attended the press conference, said afterward: “Mr. Hughes is still traumatized by this incident. He regrets having to use deadly force in his own self-defense.”
What business was Hughes protecting?
It remains unclear what business Hughes was protecting. Dr. Jackson has repeatedly declined to comment on Hughes or why he was living in the basement of her office. It is known that Hughes has worked a string of security jobs, but has left all of them after brief tenures.
After serving as a police officer in Ellsworth, Maine, for about a month, Hughes returned to the Wilmington area, working a short period of time at Jim’s Pawn and Guns before leaving in April. Hughes then worked at Port City Security and Sound, for just over a month, leaving in May. Representatives from Jim’s Pawn and Guns and Port City Security and Sound confirmed Hughes’ short-lived employment but declined to comment on why Hughes left their respective businesses.
‘Incident,’ or homicide?
Lastly, it’s not clear if the death of Edwin Estrada was ever treated as a homicide. Wilmington Police referred to Estrada’s death as “an isolated incident,” and never answered questions about whether there was a suspect.
Police Spokeswoman Linda Rawley Thompson said the department had a “person of interest,” but would not name Hughes. WPD continued to refuse to name Hughes, even after New Hanover County dispatch released Hughes’ 911 call, during which he described shooting Estrada and declined the dispatcher’s request for Hughes attempt to check Estrada’s vitals or perform CPR.
No statute of limitations
David pointed out that there is no statute of limitations on felonies, including murder, in North Carolina. He did not preclude the possibility of re-opening the case if additional information came to light.
It is also possible that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) could continue to investigate the incident.
Captain John P. Roberts said the Marines would defer to NCIS, and that the only investigative actions that would likely be taken by the Marine Corp itself would be to determine officially whether Estrada’s death would be considered in the line of duty or not.
Estrada was buried with military honors at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial in North Hollywood on Dec. 1, 2017.
911 call involving Stephen Roger Hughes, April 24, 2014 by Ben Schachtman on Scribd
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