Victoria Rickman was denied bond by during a 2013 hearing in DeKalb County Superior Court in Decatur. (John Spink / AJC)

Salacious trial of East Atlanta woman hinges on self-defense claim

From the opening of the police investigation in 2013 through the murder trial that began earlier this week in DeKalb County, the case against Victoria Rickman has played out in front of the cameras.

The defendant, a young East Atlanta mother accused of shooting her on-again, off-again boyfriend in the back at least 10 times, claims she acted in self-defense. Rickman alleges Will Carter raped her before and she feared he had returned to attack her again in the early morning hours of September 13, 2013.

In her call to 911 after the shooting Rickman said she “didn’t want to hurt” Carter but “he wouldn’t stop.”

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But Atlanta Police Homicide Detective Summer Benton didn’t buy the story — a premature and prejudicial conclusion, say Rickman’s supporters, that was caught on tape.

Benton was being shadowed by a reality show, “Inside Homicide,” in September 2013 when she got the call to respond to a shooting at Rickman’s home. The defense grilled the detective on the stand Wednesday, accusing her of playing to the cameras.

On the show, which airs on Investigation Discovery, Benton said Rickman was “digging her own grave” after she asked for an attorney.

A confrontation followed when Benton orders Rickman to turn over her cell phone.

“Your phone is now going to be with me. ‘Cause I’m going to get a search warrant for your phone so that I can get all text messages out of it,” Benton said.

October 4, 2013 Decatur : Lawyer, Harold Buckler (left) and client/defendant, Victoria Rickman (right) listen to proceedings as she was denied bond Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 by Judge Courtney L. Johnson in DeKalb County Superior Court in Decatur. Rickman’s lawyer, Harold Buckler argued unsuccessfully that Rickman posed no threat and was a lifelong area resident. Police charged Victoria Rickman, 30, with murder and felony murder and accused her of shooting a 31-year-old male several times inside her home. The shooting happened in September on Clifton Road off Flat Shoals Road in southeast Atlanta. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Those texts, introduced into evidence on Thursday, depict a tempestuous relationship between Rickman and Carter. At one point Carter texts, “I will kill you.”

But was that a serious threat? The prosecution says no, pointing to subsequent chats between Rickman and friends in which she doesn’t mention Carter’s text.

“These are nonsequiturs,” prosecutor Sheila Ross said. “She never told anyone she was threatened by her boyfriend.”

Defense lawyer Amanda Clark-Palmer argued unsuccessfully to have some of the texts kept from jurors, saying they were potentially prejudicial.

“You could make so many inferences and arguments on these because of the lack of context,” Clark-Palmer said.

The couple had a complicated history that included allegations of violence by both Rickman and Carter.

Four months before Carter’s death, a warrant was issued for Rickman’s arrest on trespassing, battery and family violence charges after she allegedly entered Carter’s home and attacked him, leaving cuts and scratches on his face, neck and arms.

In January 2012, Carter was charged with sexual battery after Rickman alleged he held her down and groped her without consent , telling her “I’ll do what I want,” the arrest warrant stated.

Rickman, in a jailhouse interview earlier this year with Crime Watch Daily, said she was “100 percent in fear of my life” in the hours leading up to the shooting.

“I knew I was gonna die,” she said.

The .40-caliber handgun she used to shoot Carter belonged to a Cobb County sheriff’s deputy, Fredrick Price, yet another salacious subplot in the Rickman trial. Price was fired after refusing to cooperate with investigators, authorities have said.

Benton, meanwhile, was skeptical of the rape allegations from the beginning. On Wednesday the doctor who administered the rape kit on Rickman said it was inconclusive on the question of whether or not the sexual contact was forced.

“She has got such a long list of rape claims that it’s too big to email,” Benton can be heard saying on the “Inside Homicide” episode.

Prosecutors have theorized that Rickman shot Carter because she was enraged that he wouldn’t drop the May 2013 battery allegation against her.

“He loved this woman,” Ross said in her opening statement Tuesday. “It will be clear William Carter Jr. loved Victoria Rickman up until the moment she shot him.”

The defense is likley to focus on what they allege was a shoddy and incomplete investigation.

The trial is expected to last two to three weeks. Rickman has been held in DeKalb without bond since her arrest hours after Carter’s death.

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