Was this student really murdered over a rude comment and a cigarette?
Ian Scheuermann had been honest with police from the start. Yes, he’d stabbed Sean Hudson – six times in total, in the neck, in the heart, and in the chest. But had he acted in self-defence? Or was he actually guilty of murder? It was up to the jury to decide…
In a courtroom in Boulder, Colorado, last October, Ian Scheuermann, 23, stood charged with second-degree murder, first-degree assault and felony menacing.
The details of the case, which was triggered by pettiness, were awful. A brawl over a cigarette had taken place outside a bar.
A punch had been thrown over a dirty comment. A life had been lost.
Just a year before, in December 2015, Ian Scheuermann, a student at the University of Colorado, and his mate Simon Vollmer had gone for a drink at the Sundown Saloon in Boulder.
There, Ian saw fellow uni student Sean Hudson, who’d also gone out for a drink with two friends, Jeremy Zellers and Chris Loersch.
Ian was studying Computer Science and Physics. Geeky, perhaps, but always trying to appear cool. His Facebook photos show him posing in sunglasses, pouting.
The two groups weren’t exactly mates. But they knew each other from around the university, and had some friends in common.
That evening, when Ian and Simon left the Sundown Saloon, Sean, Jeremy and Chris soon followed. They met on the street outside, where Sean pushed Simon to the ground before turning on Ian.
He knocked him off his feet and ended up on top of him, landing one punch after another.
Ian was smaller than Sean, couldn’t fight back. So he defended himself the only way he could.
He pulled a flick knife out of his pocket and stabbed Sean in the neck and chest until the punches stopped coming.
Sean Hudson was pronounced dead on the way to hospital.
Ian’s lawyers argued Ian had had no choice and was acting in self-defence. Sean, they said, had gone looking for a fight.
A week before, Ian had been at the Sundown alone. So had Sean’s mate Jeremy Zellers.
They’d got chatting over the pool table and had worked out that Jeremy was dating one of Ian’s ex-girlfriends.
Ian had allegedly made a lewd comment about her and they’d argued. But then, Jeremy claimed in court, they’d ‘hugged it out’.
Only, a week on, when they met at the Sundown again, this time in the smoking area, things weren’t quite so friendly.
Jeremy had asked Ian for a cigarette and Ian had refused, saying, ‘Do you want to get cut?’
Jeremy had gone back to his mates, complained to them about Ian, told them he’d been rude about his girlfriend, and how he’d refused him a cigarette.
So, when Jeremy, Sean and Chris saw Ian and Simon leave the bar on the fateful evening, they’d followed.
Sean had wanted to teach them a lesson for dissing his mate.
They were drunk. He’d lost his sense of perspective.
Ian’s defence lawyers said records showed Chris had spent $56 (around £45) on drinks for his group in the bar that evening.
Sean, Jeremy and Chris could have left the bar by another exit, gone home another way, if they’d wanted to avoid Ian and Simon.
But they hadn’t. They’d followed the friends deliberately, intent on attacking them.
Apparently, Ian had done all he could to calm the situation. He’d even tried to stop a passing police car before the first punch was thrown. He’d wanted to get out of there, hadn’t wanted to fight.
And, when the police had arrived on the scene, Ian had told them he was defending himself.
‘I’m trying not to get beat to death,’ he’d cried.
So why, asked the prosecution, was Ian carrying a flick knife?
The answer was simple – he’d always carried it, ever since being a boy scout.
The prosecution lawyers also argued whether or not Jeremy, Sean and Chris had been drunk.
Yes, Chris had spent $56 in the bar… But one of Sundown’s staff testified that no-one in the group had seemed heavily drunk.
The prosecution argued it was Ian who’d started the fight. He’d wanted to stab someone. Why else had he threatened to cut Jeremy when he’d asked for a cigarette?
Ian’s defence interjected that it had been a throwaway comment that meant nothing.
Ian had claimed he’d stabbed Sean after he’d been pushed onto the ground, and while Sean was on top of him, punching him.
But examinations showed cuts to Sean’s body had been made while the two of them were still standing.
And if Ian had only wanted to defend himself, why had he stabbed Sean six times? Surely once would have been enough?
‘His intent was to get Sean Hudson off him,’ Ian’s lawyer said. ‘He’s stabbing, he’s stabbing without a target.’
No-one was arguing that Sean hadn’t pushed Ian.
But, it was put to the jury, Ian had overreacted. Stabbing Sean hadn’t been a reasonable response to the attack.
That, according to prosecution lawyers, made him guilty of second-degree murder.
‘Please don’t tell us that if somebody gets pushed outside a bar, they are legally justified to commit murder,’ the prosecution lawyer insisted.
The lawyers argued. The jury sat and listened.
Ian Scheuermann watched on, looking lost, confused and scared.
Sean Hudson’s family looked lost, too.
One of their own was dead. And for what reason? Was it because Ian Scheuermann had murdered him? Or had he merely been trying to defend himself against the punches being rained on him by their relative?
The arguments had finally all been heard.
And, after just three hours’ deliberation, the jury had reached a verdict. The foreman of the jury stood to deliver it, clearing his throat.
‘How do you find the defendant?’ the judge asked…
The jury agreed that Ian Scheuermann had indeed acted in self-defence. He was acquitted of the charges against him.
Outside the court, one of the jurors told journalists, ‘We felt that if, at any point, the victim stopped, so would have Ian.’
Ian broke down in tears when he heard the verdict, and was comforted by his family.
‘Not every tragedy is a crime,’ his lawyer said. ‘When you take somebody’s life, you have to live with that for the rest of your own life. Even if it was justified.’