WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — After a night of heavy drinking, a Camp Lejeune Marine in Wilmington for the Marine Corps Ball went to several bars, before being shot to death in downtown Wilmington.
Those are some of the details District Attorney Ben David announced this afternoon during a news conference when he explained why the man who pulled the trigger, Stephen Hughes, will not face charges.
It was a series of unfortunate events that led to the death of Cpl. Edwin Estrada, 27. He had a dead cell phone, was heavily intoxicated, and then, ultimately knocked on the wrong door on North Front Street in the early morning hours of November 19.
“If this young man knocked on any other door in Wilmington he’d have still been alive, but he knocked on Mr. Hughes door,” David said during the news conference.
Stephen Hughes is a former law enforcement officer from Maine. He also served in the Navy for 11 years and was honorably discharged.
“A man who honorably served our country is dead,” David said. “Another man who served our country has to live with the fact he took another serviceman’s life.”
Hughes will not be charged because of North Carolina’s Defense of Habitation Law.
According to the district attorney, this is how the shooting unfolded. On the morning he shot Estrada, Hughes said he was inside his residence working on his fish tank when he heard a loud banging sound on the door of the rear entrance of the building.
He told police it sounded like someone was trying to kick in the back door.
When Hughes opened the door, Estrada tried to enter his home. Hughes grabbed his pistol from a shelf by the door and pointed it at Estrada. Hughes asked Estrada if he was “out of his f****** mind” and told Estrada to “get down.”
Estrada then said “no you get down.”
After Hughes told Estrada to “get the f*** out of here,” and to “leave”, Estrada smiled and said, “This is pure comedy, I’m going to get you.”
Estrada then lunged at Hughes and Hughes fired two shots. The first bullet entered Estrada’s cheek and went out the back of his neck. The medical examiner determined that shot was non-fatal and would not have been debilitating. The second shot entered the back of Estrada’s neck and up into his head.
After the shooting, Hughes checked outside to see if there were others with Estrada. Hughes also determined Estrada was dead, then he called 911 to report the shooting.
Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said they spent a lot of time and effort on this investigation. They interviewed Marines who were down here with Estrada that night and also went to Camp Lejeune.
They determined that Estrada did not go to the ball because he did not have appropriate attire. Instead, he drank downtown and then met up with other Marines after the ball, where they went to multiple bars.
Estrada planned to return to Jacksonville that night but decided to stay in Wilmington in a room rented by another Marine at the Hilton. Estrada did not have his own reservation.
At some point in the night, Estrada’s phone died. He could not call or receive texts from friends trying to get up with him.
Around 2:15 a.m., another Marine saw Estrada heavily intoxicated on Front Street. The Marine reported that Estrada was alone and appeared intoxicated.
He was last seen on video leaving the Hilton lobby around 2:35 a.m. The WPD’s STING center could not find Estrada on any available cameras. They do not know where he was from 2:35 a.m. until 6:07 a.m., when he was shot at Hughes’ home.
“I want to say this is a tragedy for everyone involved, can only imagine what the family is going through,” Chief Ralph Evangelous said. “Active duty Marine drinking pretty heavily that night ended up dead.”
During the investigation, law enforcement determine Hughes and Estrada did not know each other. There were no eyewitnesses and the only account of what happened came from Hughes. The investigation has not found any evidence that disputed Hughes’ account of events.
“While this incident is not a crime let me say it is a tragedy. It is a tragedy on many levels that could have been avoided. Those who resort to self help rather than calling 911 can create a situation while legally excused turns unnecessarily fatal,” David said.
David says according to the law, if a person enters a home, threatens entry, they’re presumed to be doing so with deadly intent. A lawful occupant has the right to use deadly force.
“That’s what hurts about this case,” David said. “If Estrada had lived, he’d probably be charged with misdemeanor for criminal trespass, public intoxication. He wasn’t armed, no evidence he had murderous intent.”
Because Estrada did not have a right to attempt to get inside, Hughes was legally justified in using deadly force, David said.
Thom Goolsby, the attorney for Hughes, released this statement, “Mr. Hughes is still traumatized by this incident. He regrets having to use deadly force in his own self-defense.”
The district attorney has notified Estrada’s family and met with NCIS to inform them of their decision.