The Right To Kill?

When A Woman Shoots First In Self-Defense, Is The Law On Her Side?

This story originally aired Nov. 6, 2004. It was updated on March 20, 2008.

Cherry Hammock says she had no choice but to shoot her husband, Jay.

"The reason I pulled the trigger is because he was coming after me," says Hammock, who believes she would have been killed the night her husband died.

But Jay's parents, Pete and Wyolene Hammock, bristle at the notion that their son had a violent and dangerous past. They insist that Jay, a skilled mechanic with a fondness for racing high-performance, high-priced motorcycles, didn't deserve to die.

"I think she planned the whole thing. I really do," says Wyolene Hammock.

Cherry says her husband's death was a tragic ending to what she hoped would be a lifelong relationship. They had shared a spacious home nestled in the woods of southern Georgia.

Cherry, a professional contractor, says it was their retirement home. "I just wanted someone to spend the rest of my life with," she told Correspondent Maureen Maher last November. "Someone to grow old with."

Cherry was the oldest of six siblings in a close-knit brood. Eager to start a family of her own, she married her high school sweetheart and had three children. After her marriage fell apart, Cherry remained close to her now-grown children and seven grandchildren.

She had a new boyfriend, Roger Bloodworth, but they broke up after an eight-year relationship. After that, she got a call from Roger's best friend, Jay Hammock.

"I never thought of him as someone to date," recalls Cherry. "But when he called me and asked me to go to the race with him, I went and we had a lotta fun."

Although Jay was nine years younger than Cherry, they soon married, and began building their beloved house. But shortly after they moved in, Cherry says Jay began to show a dark side: "When he would get angry, he would just get very angry."

Some behavior was deeply disturbing, like Jay's reaction when Cherry's dog, Rebel, was slow to get out of their car. "Jay was angry to the point that when Rebel got out of the car, he just shot him," recalls Cherry. "He shot my dog and killed him. I'd just never seen that much anger come out of him before. And, of course, then, he was sorry. He was so sorry afterwards."

Then, Jay's first wife, Tracie, told Cherry about how Jay had severely beaten her years ago: "It was like he snapped. He threw me down and my head busted. He roughed me up pretty bad."

Cherry says Jay never hit her, but he was becoming verbally abusive. "He would just go into such a rage and belittle me," she says. "I just didn't want to give up on him."

After five years of marriage, she says Jay moved into a guest room and demanded a divorce. "I guess I was wanting more then he was wanting to give, but that was OK. I kept trying, anyways," says Cherry. "I just didn't want to have another failed marriage."

In September 2001, Cherry came home to find a pile of torn-up wedding photos and a nasty handwritten note ordering her to leave the house. Frightened, she filed a police report and spent the next two nights with her son.

Soon after, Cherry tried to get a restraining order against Jay. She was told she'd have to wait two weeks for a hearing, even though she stated that Jay "started carrying his pistol" and she was "afraid of her life."

Later that day, a divorce lawyer strongly advised Cherry to go home so she could lay claim to the house. She headed home after dropping by her neighbor's house and says she sensed danger at home. Jay wasn't home, and his gun was laying out on the nightstand, so Cherry locked the gun in her truck "because I just felt like he might use it."

It would be Cherry, however, who would fire a fatal shot that night. "All I said was, 'Jay, just please leave me alone,'" recalls Cherry, who spent four hours in her bedroom, listening to her husband hurl insults through the door.