A Pennsylvania Mom Says Her Son Was Defending Himself In 2009 Shooting Incident

Joel Atkin was convicted of third-degree murder for the shooting death of Jayson Sack in 2009.

Joel Atkin was convicted of third-degree murder in 2010.

Joel Atkin was convicted of third-degree murder for the shooting death of Jayson Sack in 2009.

Photo by: Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Reasonable Doubt")

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Reasonable Doubt")

22-year-old Joel Atkin was driving to his mom’s house on April 25, 2009, when he encountered a group of people standing on a side street in Erie, Pennsylvania. What happened next was quick — Atkin says a man approached him, reached through his open car window, and began punching him in the head while trying to open the car door.

Atkin tumbled out of his vehicle and began to tussle with the man, later identified as 30-year-old Jayson Sack.

Atkin, who had a permit to carry a handgun, called 911 and told the dispatcher he was in a fight and was going to shoot. A gunshot then echoed across the line, and a single round struck Sack in the lower right abdomen.

Sack died, and Atkin was arrested at the scene and charged with murder.

Atkin claimed he was acting in self-defense, but he was convicted of third-degree murder in 2010 and received a 17-34 year sentence.

Atkin’s mother, Brenda Kiehlmeier, has been adamant that he was an innocent victim in fear for his life, and she sought help from retired police detective Chris Anderson and former criminal defense attorney Fatima Silva to prove it.

Tape, Trajectory, and A Prominent Family

Kiehlmeier told Anderson and Silva that she is positive her son would be dead if he hadn’t fired at Sack that day. According to Kiehlmeier, her son informed dispatchers that Sack had a knife, but she says that 32 seconds of audio was intentionally cut from the 911 tape played at Atkin’s trial because it would have hurt the prosecution’s case.

She described her son as a compassionate man and great big brother who had been on his school wrestling team and was planning to become a police officer himself before the day he was approached by Sack.

The way the bullet tore through Sack’s body bolsters the self-defense claim, according to Kiehlmeier. She told the investigators that the upward trajectory through Slack’s body proves that he was standing over her son when he was shot. She also asked them to review Atkin’s medical records — after his arrest, he complained of a headache and was taken to the hospital for a CT scan.

Kiehlmeier also questioned the fairness of the trial. Sack reportedly came from a well-known family in Erie, and Kiehlmeier doesn’t think there was any way her son could have had a fair and impartial jury.

To investigate that claim, Silva tracked down one of the jurors to ask him about the trial. What he told Fatima has haunted him each night since he cast his hesitant vote to convict Atkin of Slack’s murder.

Hear from the juror — as well as Atkin himself — as Silva and Anderson try to put the case to rest on Reasonable Doubt airing on ID Aug. 30 at 10/9c. More episodes are available now on discovery+.

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