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Staff sgt. acquitted of manslaughter

May. 13, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Staff Sgt. Jason Rolls, center, with his wife and children, was acquitted of manslaughter charges in the killing of his wife's ex-husband. His lawyer called it a clear-cut case of the 'Stand Your Ground' self-defense law.
Staff Sgt. Jason Rolls, center, with his wife and children, was acquitted of manslaughter charges in the killing of his wife's ex-husband. His lawyer called it a clear-cut case of the 'Stand Your Ground' self-defense law. (Courtesy photo)
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Rolls (Courtesy photo)

The three-year ordeal to clear his name began hours after Staff Sgt. Jason Rolls' wedding at the St. Landry Parish, La., courthouse.

The three-year ordeal to clear his name began hours after Staff Sgt. Jason Rolls' wedding at the St. Landry Parish, La., courthouse.

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The three-year ordeal to clear his name began hours after Staff Sgt. Jason Rolls’ wedding at the St. Landry Parish, La., courthouse.

It ended there April 26, when a jury of five men and seven women acquitted him of manslaughter in the killing of his bride’s ex-husband in what his lawyer called a clear-cut case of “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.

When the verdict was read, Rolls turned to his wife and embraced her.

“I told her we can finally start our lives,” he said in an interview with Air Force Times. “This started the day we were married. We never took a honeymoon. The past three years, we’ve been dealing with this. It’s been tough. We’ve made it through.”

He’d walked out of the courthouse three years earlier ready to start his life anew. Now he walked out a second time with the same goal in mind.

Following family in service

Rolls joined the Air Force after graduating from high school in 2003.

“It was an easy decision for me,” he said. “A majority of my family comes from a military background.”

Rolls was stationed at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., from 2003 to 2007. He next went to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., where he was tasked with providing presidential support. Once, he was selected to refuel the president’s plane. He deployed to the Middle East three times — Iraq, Qatar and Kyrgyzstan.

In May 2010, he was cross-training to become an Air Force recruiter. And he had just gotten married to Twaila Hall, blending their two families of four children into a single family of six.

Hours later, the shooting happened. Then everything was put on hold — for three years.

Honeymoon interrupted

It was a hot afternoon, with temperatures in the upper 80s, when Jason and Twaila Rolls exchanged vows on the afternoon of May 7, 2010, at St. Landry Parish. Afterward, they visited family and headed to their home in Krotz Springs. Twaila Rolls changed clothes and heated up dinner. Jason Rolls settled on the couch in the living room.

Around 5 p.m., there was a bang on the door. It was Twaila Rolls’ ex-husband, a firefighter named Michael Hall. She didn’t want him there, she told him through the closed door. Hall kept banging. Twaila Rolls told him twice more to leave. Hall pushed his way in, knocked his ex-wife to the floor and burst into the living room, where he tackled Jason Rolls. During their brief brawl, Hall grabbed Jason Rolls’ collar, ripping his shirt.

Police would later seize the shirt as evidence.

Jason Rolls said what happened next was instinctual. He reached for a pistol on the arm of the couch and fired once, striking Hall in the chest. Hall collapsed. Jason Rolls told his wife to call 911. Then he unloaded the gun, removed the magazine and put it on top of the refrigerator.

By the time first responders got there, Hall was dead.

No one knows for certain what provoked Hall that day. He was well-liked and respected by his fellow firefighters, according to news reports. Jason Rolls had met him once before, interacting briefly.

“From what I understand, he was a good father and a good husband. I didn’t know him personally,” he said.

Jason Rolls’ attorney, Thomas Alonzo, said Hall may have learned Jason and Twaila Rolls had gotten married, a fact they’d tried to keep quiet. The divorce between Twaila Rolls and Hall was recently finalized, and they’d gone through a contentious custody dispute. There was an informal no-contact agreement between them, Alonzo said.

Just before he showed up at the Rolls’ home, Hall called his ex-wife eight times in five minutes from his cellphone.

“It appears he was upset about something,” Alonzo said.

At 5 feet 10 inches and 135 pounds, Jason Rolls was considerably smaller than Hall, who stood more than 6 feet and weighed more than 200 pounds, according to the Krotz Springs Police Department report.

Jason Rolls told officers he had a pistol in the home for protection against a man who at the time was wanted for the sexual assault of one of his wife’s relatives, the police report said. The man had threatened to kill the relative and her family.

When Hall “attacked my wife and then attacked me, it was pretty much a fight-or-flight situation,” Jason Rolls said.

He said he wished the whole thing had never happened. He also said he believes he acted appropriately.

“Whenever the police read me my rights and asked if I wanted to give a statement, I cooperated. I didn’t want to hinder the police investigation in any way. I wanted to give them all the information they needed to process the scene and clear me. I didn’t want to ask for a lawyer,” he said.

'Faith in the system'

But authorities didn’t clear him. They placed him under arrest. Seven months later, prosecutors tried, unsuccessfully, to seek a grand jury indictment against him. They tried again in April 2011. This time, the grand jury returned a manslaughter indictment, with the trial set to begin in October.

But the prosecution asked for a delay that October, setting a new trial date for February 2012. In January 2012, the prosecution offered Jason Rolls a deal of a lesser charge of negligent homicide if he pleaded guilty. He turned it down.

Jason Rolls’ attorney believed a jury would clear his client. The Louisiana law is clear: A person who is in a place where he or she has the right to be has no obligation to retreat before using deadly force. A person may, the law says, “stand his or her ground.”

“I had faith in the system, in my lawyer, and I knew the facts and evidence in the case. I felt justice was going to prevail and my name would be cleared,” Rolls said. But “I was facing four years in jail. That’s four years of my kids’ lives. That’s like a life sentence for me.”

The prosecution asked for three more continuances: February 2012, June 2012 and August 2012 before the final trial date of April 2013. Jason Rolls spent more than half of that in jail. When he wasn’t behind bars, he was confined to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., where he works as a fuel craftsman.

Either behind bars or not, the past three years had been a kind of prison, either jailed or confined to base, a monitor around his ankle tracking his moves.

“Anything that had to be done off base, [Twaila] was it. She was the runner. She was the delivery person. She did her best to make sure I stayed happy and healthy-minded,” he said.

That ended April 26, when the not-guilty verdict gave Jason Rolls his freedom back, 11 days shy of three years after the couple first left the courthouse to begin their lives together.

Jason and Twaila Rolls celebrated by collecting their children for a dinner together — Jason Rolls’ first meal off base since 2010.

The Rollses still haven’t taken a honeymoon, and probably won’t, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, they’d like to take a family vacation to Disney World.

“I might try again to be a recruiter,” he said. “Right now, I’m happy being free and spending time with my family.”

An airman’s journey to acquittal

An airman's journey to acquittal

2010

May 7 Arrest hours after his wedding.

May 17 Bail set, confined to Barksdale AFB.

December Grand jury; no indictment.

2011

April 21 Second grand jury; indicted.

June 13 Motion for written court approval to leave Barksdale AFB signed.

June 13 Arraignment, trial set for October.

Sept. 29 State asks for continuance to February 2012.

Oct. 13 Bond revoked for leaving base.

2012

January State offers reduced charges of negligent homicide; turned down.

Feb. 1 State asks for continuance to June.

June 5 State asks for continuance to Aug. 17.

Aug. 10 State asks for continuance to April 22, 2013.

Aug. 10 Bail allowed; confined to Barksdale AFB with GPS monitoring bracelet.

2013

April 22 Trial begins.

April 26 Acquitted.

From court files and minutes from the St. Landry Parish Courthouse.

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