Early in the morning on March 5, James Edward Loftis found himself facing two men in his South Carolina home. The men were demanding cab fare for the ride Loftis had just received.
“I’ll get your money,” he told them, according to his own account given to police and recorded in an arrest warrant soon after.
Instead, the warrant said, Loftis retrieved a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, returned to the living room and fired off eight shots, striking both men.
He then went to get gas, cleaned his home with bleach and burned the two bodies, along with his clothes and towels, in the back yard, according to the document.
On Monday, his lawyer argued that Loftis acted in self-defense and buried and burned the bodies in a state of panic, according to the Post and Courier. A prosecutor said the prosecution was moving forward in its case against Loftis.
Nonetheless, a judge in the case granted bail to the 39-year-old, who faces murder charges for fatally shooting the cab driver, 46-year-old Guma Oz Dubar, and the other man, 32-year-old James Cody Newland.
“He’s a human being,” defense attorney Stephen Harris said, according to the Post and Courier. “He freaked out and thought he was going to prison, so he tried to hide the bodies. Nobody knows how you’re going to react when you kill two people.”
Harris said what Loftis did after the shooting was “heinous,” according to the Post and Courier.
Berkeley County Deputy Solicitor Bryan Alfaro said the prosecution would continue pursuing the case, given Loftis’s inconsistent accounts of whether the men forced their way into the home or whether he let them in — a crucial part of his defense, according to the Post and Courier, because of South Carolina’s “stand your ground” law, which grants protection to homeowners who use deadly force against intruders.
Stand-your-ground laws have sparked national debate, especially in the years following the 2012 shooting death of an unarmed African American teenager in Florida. An attorney for George Zimmerman did not invoke it as part of his legal defense, although a member of the jury later told CNN that they had weighed Florida’s stand-your-ground law before finding Zimmerman not guilty in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Gun rights advocates say such laws codify the right to protect one’s home, while opponents say they legalize the sometimes-deadly use of force.
On Monday, Alfaro, the deputy solicitor, depicted Loftis’s actions in gruesome detail.
“They were essentially just slow-cooked inside the grave site,” he said.
Following the brutal events that early-March morning, Loftis did not call police. His wife did.
Wilda Loftis told the authorities that her husband was having suicidal thoughts and had told her that he had killed “them” and put “them” in the back yard, according to the original arrest-warrant affidavit.
After police arrived, she showed them bullet holes in the living room, above the couch. Investigators made their way to the backyard and discovered a disturbed patch of dirt. Then, they spoke to Loftis, who explained what happened.
If and when Loftis posts his $250,000 bail — probably this week, the Post and Courier reported — he will be on house arrest, allowed only to leave for work, church, or visits with a doctor or his lawyer, according to the Post and Courier.