(OCALA, Fla.) — The family of Ajike “AJ” Owens, the Black woman who was killed by her neighbor on June 2 in Florida, called on prosecutors to upgrade the charges against Susan Lorincz from manslaughter to second-degree murder during a virtual press conference on Tuesday.
Lorincz, who is white, has been charged with first-degree felony manslaughter in the death of her neighbor, Ajike “AJ” Owens, a Black mother of four who was fatally shot on June 2 through the door of the suspect’s home when she confronted her in a dispute over where her children were playing, according to prosecutors.
Anthony Thomas, an attorney for the Owens family, told ABC News in a statement on Tuesday that the family was “deeply disappointed” by the charges, but “our resolve remains unwavering, and we will continue to fight.”
“We are devastated,” Owens’ mother Pamela Dias said in a statement to ABC News. “How do I explain to AJ’s children, my young grandbabies, that the loss of their mother’s life is still not being taken seriously? Only a living breathing AJ would be true justice, and today’s charge could not be further from that.”
Lorincz, 58, was arrested on June 6 and the family has been calling for murder charges to be filed in this case, but Florida State Attorney William “Bill” Gladson said there was insufficient evidence to prove such a charge in court.
Lorincz allegedly fired a shot through the door of her Ocala, Florida, home, killing the 35-year-old Owens in front of her 10-year-old son after Owens banged on the door of Lorincz’s home, according to police.
Gladson announced Monday his office has formally charged Lorincz with one count of felony first-degree manslaughter with a firearm and one count of assault. If convicted, Lorincz faces 30 years in prison, Gladson said.
“As deplorable as the defendant’s actions were in this case, there is insufficient evidence to prove this specific and required element of second-degree murder,” Gladson said.
According to a June 6 statement from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Lorincz shot Owens through a door after the mother of four went to speak with Lorincz about a dispute over Owens’ children playing near Lorincz’s home.
“Evidence gathered during the investigation established that over a period of time, Lorincz had become angry at Owens’ children who were playing in a field close to her home,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement on June 6. The sheriff’s office said that Lorincz “engaged in an argument with the children and was overhead yelling at them by a neighbor.”
“The children then went and told their mother, Owens, about what had happened,” the sheriff’s office said. “Owens approached Lorincz’s home, knocked on the door multiple times, and demanded that Lorincz come outside. Lorincz then fired one shot through the door, striking Owens in her upper chest. At the time she was shot, Owens’ 10-year-old son was standing beside her.”
According to the sheriff’s office, Lorincz claimed in her interview with police that she was acting in “self-defense” and claimed that Owens was trying to “break down her door,” but through the investigation “detectives were able to establish that Lorincz’s actions were not justifiable under Florida law.”
“The family will continue to not only advocate for accountability in all forms, but they also will continue to say her name so that Florida officials remember this tragic loss of life. There is still much that needs to be done to make Florida a place where Black women and children feel safe and protected,” Crump said in a statement to ABC News in response to the charges.
Lorincz’s attorney could not be reached for comment. Lorincz has entered a not guilty plea. Her next court hearing is set for July 11.
Gladson said the decision on what to charge Lorincz with was carefully examined. He said he concluded that a second-degree murder charge would require prosecutors to prove beyond reasonable doubt “the existence of a depraved mind toward the victim at the time of the killing.”
“Depraved mind requires evidence of hatred, spite, ill will or evil intent toward the victim at the time of the killing,” Gladson said in a statement.
Gladson added, “As is always true in criminal cases, failure to prove beyond a reasonable doubt even one element of a crime will result in a not guilty verdict.”
“I am aware of the desire of the family, and some community members, that the defendant be charged with second-degree murder. My obligation as State Attorney is to follow the law in each case that I prosecute,” Gladson said. “I did so in this case, and while some may not agree with that decision, I can assure you that the decision was thoughtful and made without consideration of any factors other than the specific facts of this terrible crime. Simply stated, my obligation is to follow the law.”
Owens’ son alleged in an interview with investigators that the shooting unfolded after Lorincz threw a skate at him but did not hit him when she found him and other children playing in a field outside her home, and became angry, according to Gladson.
Lorincz initially claimed she acted in self-defense, alleging Owens attacked her in the past, according to Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods. According to a police report, Lorincz also told investigators that she did not intend to hit Owens when she fired the gun.
But in a video statement released the day Lorincz was arrested, Woods said the shooting was not a stand-your-ground self-defense case but “simply a killing.”
Owens’ death sparked protests and demands that Lorincz be arrested immediately. National civil rights attorney Ben Crump agreed to represent the Owens family.
It took sheriff’s officials about a week after the shooting before they arrested Lorincz, who was jailed on suspicion of manslaughter and held without bail.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, a national civil rights leader and president of the National Action Network, slammed Gladson’s decision not to file murder charges in the case.
“The legal system failed AJ Owens and her family today by refusing to recognize that this brazen shooting was plain murder,” Sharpton said in a statement. “It was an outrageous decision to not bring murder charges against a shooter who fired blindly through the door. Florida officials have failed AJ throughout this entire process.”
Sharpton called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the shooting as a federal hate crime.
“We urge the DOJ to intervene in this case, so the appropriate level of justice is delivered for AJ and her family,” Sharpton said.
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