A Florida woman accused of fatally shooting a neighbor after a dispute with her children this month will not face murder charges, a prosecutor said Monday in a carefully worded statement explaining his reasoning in the divisive case.
The woman, Susan Louise Lorincz, 58, was instead charged with one count of manslaughter with a firearm and one count of assault, said Bill Gladson, the state attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Florida. She could face a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison if convicted on the charges.
The family of the dead woman, Ajike Owens, 35, a mother of four, had asked for a murder charge, which would be punishable by up to life in prison. But Mr. Gladson said that there was not enough evidence to prove the crime.
“I am aware of the desire of the family, and some community members, that the defendant be charged with second-degree murder,” he said in the statement. “However, I cannot allow any decision to be influenced by public sentiment, angry phone calls or further threats of violence, as I have received in this case.”
Ms. Owens’s death on June 2 spurred outrage in her community in Ocala, Fla., and across the nation for how a mundane dispute had led Ms. Lorincz to use deadly force.
The family of Ms. Owens was disappointed that a murder charge was not brought against Ms. Lorincz, Anthony Thomas, one of the Owens family’s lawyers, said in an interview on Monday.
“The arrest affidavit all seemed to boil down to a murder charge,” he said. “Even if she’s given the 30 years, there’s a chance that the children will be alive to see her, which would be just a slap in the face.”
The confrontation on June 2 came after a “neighborhood feud” between Ms. Lorincz and Ms. Owens about the children, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
Before the shooting, Ms. Lorincz had become angry at Ms. Owens’s children, who were playing in a field close to her home, according to the sheriff’s office. She began arguing with them, throwing a roller skate at Ms. Owens’s son’s toe and swinging an umbrella at her children, according to the sheriff’s office.
The children told their mother what had happened and she went to Ms. Lorincz’s home, knocked on her door and demanded she come outside, the authorities said. They said that Ms. Lorincz fired a shot through the door, striking Ms. Owens in the upper chest. She was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
The sheriff’s office said that Ms. Lorincz had claimed that she had acted in self-defense and that she believed Ms. Owens was trying to break down her door. But they said that detectives were able to establish that her actions were not legally justifiable.
The lawyers representing Ms. Owens’s family also said in a statement at the time that witnesses had heard Ms. Lorincz using racial slurs when yelling at Ms. Owens’s children before the shooting. Ms. Lorincz, a white woman, admitted to using racial slurs against neighborhood children in the past, according to an arrest affidavit. Ms. Owens was Black.
After calls from Ms. Owens’s family and friends and civil rights leaders to file murder charges against Ms. Lorincz, Mr. Gladson, the state attorney, said he had carefully examined the viability of the charge.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Gladson said that he had provided a public explanation for his decision because he believed it was “important to be transparent” and that it would be “beneficial to explain the law as it applies to these particular set of facts.”
To prove a second-degree murder, one must show “beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt” that the defendant was in a “depraved mind” at the time of the killing, Mr. Gladson wrote in the explanation.
“Depraved mind requires evidence of hatred, spite, ill will or evil intent toward the victim,” he added. “Given the facts in this case, aiming a firearm at the door, and pulling the trigger is legally insufficient to prove depraved mind.”
He continued: “Case law has consistently held that extreme recklessness or impulsive overreactions are, in and of themselves, insufficient to prove second-degree murder.”
Mr. Thomas, the Owens family lawyer, on the other hand, said that there was evidence of a “depraved mind” in the relationship between Ms. Owens and Ms. Lorinz and the series of events that had led to the shooting.
Ms. Lorincz’s lawyer, Amanda Sizemore, declined to comment on the case on Monday.
Other everyday disputes have led to deadly shootings across the United States, stirring protests and widespread outrage, especially after the victims were shot for making innocent mistakes: going to the wrong address, getting in the wrong car or ringing the wrong door bell.
Ms. Lorincz has been at the Marion County Jail since her June 6 arrest by the sheriff’s office on charges of manslaughter with a firearm, culpable negligence, battery and assault. The state attorney’s charges mirror the initial charges.
The case has also added to the controversy over the legal protections for people who say they have feared for their safety when they used deadly force.
Florida’s “stand your ground” law gained wide attention when the police cited it as the reason they declined to arrest George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. He was later charged, but his acquittal the following year prompted demonstrations nationwide.
The sheriff’s office in Ms. Owens’s case said that the law required the investigators of her death to rule out “whether deadly force was justified or not before we make an arrest.” Ms. Owens’s family held a news conference on June 5 calling on the authorities to arrest the shooter.