US government found not responsible for Marine’s NC murder of grandmother

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  • The federal government bears no legal responsibility for a Marine's killing of his grandmother in North Carolina in 2018, according to the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Appellate judges used different legal reasoning to reach the same conclusion as the trial judge in a lawsuit filed by Mitchell Evans on behalf of his late mother, Sallie Copeland Evans.
  • Marine Lance Corporal Isaiah Evans Ceasar shot and killed his grandmother as she tried to convince him to travel to Camp Lejeune after he had left his Marine post without permission.
  • The lawsuit focused on the actions of Ceasar's commanding officer. Judges agreed those actions did not lead to legal liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The federal government does not bear legal responsibility for a Marine’s murder of his grandmother in North Carolina in 2018, according to a 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals panel.

The ruling issued Monday relied on different reasoning to reach the same conclusion as the trial judge in the case.

Mitchell Garnet Evans had sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act on behalf of his murdered mother, Sallie Copeland Evans. Sallie’s grandson, Marine Lance Corporal Isaiah Evans Ceasar, shot and killed her in Halifax County. The grandmother had tried to convince her grandson to return to a Marine base several weeks after he had left his post without permission.

The lawsuit focused on the actions of “Captain Smith,” Ceasar’s commanding officer. Ceasar’s family communicated with Smith after Ceasar left Fort Benning, Georgia, without permission in March 2018.

“Sometime after leaving Fort Benning, Ceasar traveled to Halifax County. When Ceasar’s family learned that he was there, they called Capt. Smith to advise him that Ceasar needed to be picked up by the Marine Corps,” wrote Appeals Court Judge Roger Gregory. “Capt. Smith arranged for Ceasar to return to Fort Benning unsupervised sometime after that call. On April 5, 2018, Ceasar boarded a flight from Raleigh-Durham International Airport (‘RDU’) to Atlanta, Georgia, per the travel arrangements Capt. Smith made.”

Yet Ceasar was back in Halifax County by April 10 at his grandfather’s house. “Ceasar’s family called Capt. Smith to inform him that Ceasar had returned and ‘that they were concerned and afraid something could happen,’” Gregory wrote. “That same day, Sallie asked Capt. Smith ‘why the Marine Corps had not picked up Ceasar’ and requested that Capt. Smith arrange for North Carolina law enforcement officials to retrieve Ceasar. Capt. Smith took no action.”

Smith indicated to Ceasar’s family that he had found several “disturbing” notes from the Marine. He warned the grandmother to be careful if she came into contact with him.

“Sallie again requested that Capt. Smith have Ceasar detained. In response, Capt. Smith stated that the Marine Corps had exhausted significant resources in making the previous travel arrangements for Ceasar and ‘would not commit to making any further effort to find and detain’ him,” the 4th Circuit opinion explained.

Ceasar’s family paid for him to fly from Raleigh-Durham International Airport to Atlanta on April 22, yet he returned to Halifax County the following day. Family members contacted Smith again. He advised Ceasar’s family to take him to Camp Lejeune.

“As Sallie tried to convince Ceasar to gather his belongings for the trip, Ceasar shot her in the back of the head with a 9mm pistol,” Gregory wrote. “Sallie’s dead body was located several days later. Ceasar was subsequently arrested at a hotel and charged with first-degree murder. At the time of his arrest, Ceasar had Sallie’s car and credit card, as well as unidentified ‘explosive devices,’ in his possession.”

Mitchell Evans filed a wrongful death claim with the Marine Corps. The Marines denied the claim in October 2020. Then Evans filed a federal suit. A trial judge dismissed the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

Gregory and Appeals Court Judge DeAndrea Benjamin disagreed with the ruling about subject-matter jurisdiction. Yet “because Evans failed to state a wrongful death claim under North Carolina law, the district court’s decision — though procedurally incorrect — was substantively proper,” Gregory wrote.

Smith took no actions that would have made him or the Marines legally liable for Ceasar’s shooting of his grandmother, 4th Circuit judges agreed.

“[T]he facts in the complaint do not sufficiently allege that Capt. Smith voluntarily undertook a duty to Sallie at any time they were in contact,” Gregory wrote. “Indeed, even with all inferences drawn in Evans’s favor, the facts suggest the opposite.”

“Notably, prior to telling Sallie to drive Ceasar to Camp Lejeune, Capt. Smith explicitly informed her on several occasions that the Marine Corps would not take any further action to locate or retrieve Ceasar,” Gregory added. “True to that position, he took no action in response to Sallie’s requests for him to involve local law enforcement. With that context, their conversations regarding Camp Lejeune are better understood as Capt. Smith suggesting actions Sallie could take to resolve her issue than him attempting to assist her.”

Judge Marvin Quattlebaum agreed with the final decision but would have upheld the trial court’s original ruling.

A state court judge sentenced Ceasar in 2022 to at least 36 years in prison in connection with the killings of his grandmother and another man in an unrelated incident. Ceasar had agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in both cases.