Editor’s Note: The three-part story that follows, which originally appeared in Concealed Carry Magazine‘s January 2021 issue, is an account of a self-defense incident that occurred in North Carolina in 2019 and the legal turmoil that followed. The details within the story were confirmed through interviews, police records and court documents. The USCCA Member featured in the story has asked that his full name not be used in order to help protect his identity. It has been less than two years since this event occurred, and while his life is largely back to normal, he doesn’t want to attract unwanted attention to himself or his family. We have also left out the names of his family members and others who were involved in this incident, as well as specific dates and locations.

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It was the morning after the worst day of Brian’s life. The 42-year-old listened intently as the attorney seated across the table laid out the groundwork for a plan intended to clear Brian’s name and get him back home to his family — back where he belonged.

Here, handcuffed in a county jail meeting room after a restless night spent in a nearby cell, Brian couldn’t have felt more out of place. The 20-year U.S. Army veteran had never been arrested before. Hell, he barely had a traffic record. He’s a kind man, a good father and a God-fearing Christian. He didn’t belong here.

Kevin Marcilliat, the lawyer meeting with Brian, recognized that too. Like all good defense attorneys, Marcilliat has a talent for reading people, cutting through the distortion and getting to the core of what makes a person tick. He described his first impressions of Brian as a “salt-of-the-earth military vet” and “the kind of guy you want to have a beer with.” Most importantly, he sensed deep-down that Brian was telling the truth.

Hope vs. Reality

“I believed every word he said from the very beginning,” Marcilliat reflected. “And his story never wavered. What he told law enforcement is what he told me, and what he told me was the same thing every time I spoke to him.”

In this first meeting, it was Marcilliat, a partner at Roberts Law Group, PLLC, and a member of the USCCA Attorney Network, who was hoping to gain Brian’s trust. But as Marcilliat began detailing what the process of getting Brian out from behind bars would look like over the coming months, Brian interrupted him.

“I don’t have two months,” he said, shaking his closely shaved head in disagreement.

If he didn’t get out in time to take his summer semester courses, Brian explained, he wouldn’t get his GI Bill payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Marcilliat, delicately balancing hope and the unfortunate reality of the situation for his potential client, told Brian that he almost certainly wouldn’t be enrolled in school for the summer semester. Brian probably wouldn’t be granted bond for several months — if at all — and they were going to have to fight like hell to make sure he’d ever be able to step foot on that campus again.

The outlook hit Brian in a wave of anguish. He knew in his heart that he had done nothing wrong, yet here he was, in jail, with far more than just his summer semester in jeopardy. Finally bearing the full weight of the first-degree murder charge he received less than 24 hours earlier, Brian collected himself and took a deep breath. He nodded for Marcilliat to continue.

“Even when he was facing this just horribly dark moment that to most would seem hopeless, he didn’t seem hopeless,” Marcilliat reflected. “He seemed terrified, but he didn’t seem hopeless.”

Brian, in fact, wasn’t hopeless. He already felt God’s hands at work.

Opening Doors

One day earlier, as Brian packed his bags for an out-of-state funeral, he was unaware of the cascading circumstances racing like a string of crashing dominoes, headed straight toward the front steps of his rural North Carolina home.

It was about 7 a.m. when Brian’s phone buzzed. His ex-wife, the mother of his two daughters, texted to let him know she would no longer be able to watch their younger daughter while Brian traveled. Angry but unsurprised — he had learned long ago that his ex-wife was not one to be relied upon — Brian couldn’t wait to hear what the excuse was this time.

His mood shifted when he read her response: Her house had burned down. She was on his front porch.

Brian quickly opened the door and let her in. As he offered her a chair, he noticed the marks: a slight black eye and bruising around the throat. He pressed for info.

Brian’s ex said her ex-boyfriend showed up at her trailer home on the other side of town the previous night. He’d do that from time to time, she explained. He’d stay for the night and then disappear again. She wasn’t interested in his company on this particular night though, especially since he was drunk.

The outlook hit Brian in a wave of anguish. He knew in his heart that he had done nothing wrong, yet here he was, in jail.

“She was telling him to leave and trying to get him out,” Brian relayed. “I guess he got upset, violent.”

Brian’s ex would later tell police that the whole trailer park could hear her 45-year-old ex-boyfriend assaulting her and that no one came to her assistance or called the police.

“The beating went on for hours off and on,” she told police. “It was both verbal and physical.”

She lost consciousness at one point but was eventually able to escape, running into a nearby patch of woods, where she hid.

“I was sitting in the woods and I heard a big ‘POW!’” she told police. “I couldn’t see flames, but I did see flashing lights and brightness.”

Suspicious in Origin

The local fire department was called to the scene at 2:17 a.m. Fire department records indicate that the fire seemed “suspicious in origin.” There was an odor of gasoline, and it appeared as though an accelerant was poured onto the front steps of the home.

Brian’s ex spent the rest of the night in the woods. After sunrise, fearing that her ex-boyfriend could still be nearby, she paid for an Uber ride to Brian’s house. After telling Brian what happened, she went upstairs into their daughter’s room and laid down, trying to get some much-needed rest.

“I went and called the sheriff’s department,” Brian said. “I explained what happened, and whoever answered the phone told me I had to call the fire marshal.”

Brian questioned the dispatcher — he wanted to report an assault on top of the suspected arson — but the dispatcher assured him that the investigation would start with the fire department.

“So I contacted the fire marshal and explained to him what I knew of the situation,” Brian said.

The fire marshal agreed to come to Brian’s house to interview his ex-wife later that day. Before hanging up, Brian asked if the fire marshal had seen his ex-wife’s dog at the trailer.

“Yeah, there was a dog,” he told Brian. “It was hiding under the trailer. It looked scared.”

The fire marshal said he was planning on calling animal control, but Brian agreed to run over with his ex to get the dog.

“Confronting Chaos,” Part 1 of 3

Jailed for months while facing a first-degree murder charge, a North Carolina man found hope in his faith and the USCCA.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3