Two Cases Raise Questions of Self-Defense by Homeowners

Two cases have raised questions about the right of self-defense of a homeowner — where the intruders in both cases were killed.

A Texas grand jury is looking into whether to charge a man in his 70s with murder after he fatally shot two men he thought were robbing his neighbor’s home.

Just before the shootings, the man called 911:

911: “Pasadena 911. What is your emergency?”

Caller: “Burglars breaking into a house next door.”

A police spokesman says the man told the dispatcher that he was going to get his gun and stop the break-in.

Caller: “I’ve got a shotgun, do you want me to stop them?”

911: “Nope, don’t do that. Ain’t no property worth shooting somebody over, OK?”

The dispatcher repeatedly urged the man to stay calm and stay in his own home, reports CBS News correspondent Hari Sreenivasan.

911: “I’ve got officers coming out there. I don’t want you to go outside that house.”

Caller: “I understand that, but I have a right to protect myself too, sir, and you understand that. And the laws have been changed in this country since September the first, and you know it and I know it. I have a right to protect myself.”

Indeed, the Texas law did expand the right to use lethal force on Sept.1 but this “castle doctrine” is at best vague on the use to defend someone else’s castle.

The man later called back:

Caller: “Boom. You’re dead.” (Sounds of gunshots) “Get the law over here quick. I’ve managed to get one of them, he’s in the front yard over there. He’s down, the other one is running down the street. I had no choice. They came in the front yard with me, man. I had no choice.

Under the common law, one cannot use force calculated to cause death or serious bodily injury in defense of property. However, one can use lethal force in self-defense when threatened with a commensurate threat. Criminal law tracks the same rule. Many states, however, have passed “make my day” laws that allow the use of lethal force anytime someone breaks into your home. This removes the necessity to prove self-defense. It is statutorily defined as an act of self-defense under these laws.

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In another case, a father has been publicly denounced for wrongful killings after shooting men who entered his house and brutally attacked his family. Three young black men broke into the home of Shannon Edmonds on Dec. 7 and terrorized the family — including brutally beating his stepson. Edmonds shot Rashad Williams, 21, and Christian Foster, 22, in the back as Renato Hughes Jr., 22, fled. Now many are alleging that Edmonds was in the wrong despite the fact that his stepson, Dale Lafferty suffered brain damage from being beaten with a baseball bat beating and at 19-year-old now lives in a rehabilitation center and can no longer feed himself.

Nevertheless,

Rev. Amos Brown, head of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP and pastor at Hughes’ church, said the case demonstrates the legal system is racist in remote Lake County, aspiring wine country 100 miles north of San Francisco. The sparsely populated county of 13,000 people is 91 percent white and 2 percent black.

Brown and other NAACP officials are asking why the homeowner is walking free. Tests showed Edmonds had marijuana and prescription medication in his system the night of the shooting. Edmonds had a prescription for both the pot and the medication to treat depression.

“This man had no business killing these boys,” Brown said. “They were shot in the back. They had fled.”

It seems a rather poor case for the NAACP to take when these men were responsible for crippling a young man for life with a baseball bat.

What is particularly interesting from a legal standpoint is that the prosecutors are going to charge Hughes with the deaths of his friends. He was charged with first-degree murder under California’s Provocative Act doctrine, which allows the state to convict based on the fact that it was reasonably foreseeable that the criminal act would result in a fatality. Hughes also faces robbery, burglary and assault charges, but will not face the death penalty.

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