155 S.W. 170 (Tenn. 1913)
Freddo worked for a railroad company and had little tolerance for language that was obscene or insulting to women. The deceased, Higgenbotham, was foul-mouthed and commonly used the phrase “son of a bitch” but not with the intention of offending. Freddo asked him to stop addressing him with the phrase. On the day of the incident, the two were working on a locomotive when Higgenbotham noticed oil had been spilled on his tool box and assumed Freddo was responsible, telling him, “If someone spilled oil on your box, you would be raising hell, wouldn’t you, you son of a bitch?” Freddo asked Higgenbotham if he meant to call him that, and he replied, “Yes, you are a son of a bitch.” Freddo then grabbed a steel bar and struck Higgenbotham in the head as he rose from a squatting position, killing him.
A jury found Freddo guilty of murder in the second degree.
Did the facts only warrant a conviction of voluntary manslaughter?
Holding / Rule
No. A homicide can be reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter only if the defendant killed in the sudden heat of passion due to provocation that would, in the mind of an average reasonable person, stir resentment likely to cause violence.
Although there were evidence that Freddo was peculiarly sensitive to being addressed with vulgar epithets, under the reasonable person standard, language alone, however violent or offensive, can never be sufficient provocation for taking someone’s life. While language in combination with assault may be sufficient, the jury was properly instructed on the distinctions between second degree murder and manslaughter and could have found that there still was not sufficient provocation because Higgenbotham, though rising up, was not in a position to assault Freddo.