Oklahoma Mother Calls Dispatch For Approval Before Shooting Intruder — Accomplice Then Charged With Murder

There is an interesting case out of Blanchard, Oklahoma involving the “Make My Day” or “Castle doctrine” laws, a subject that we have repeatedly discussed over the years. In this case, Sarah McKinley, 18, asked a dispatcher on New Year’s Eve over the phone whether she could shoot an intruder in her home. The dispatcher told her that she should do what she needed to do. She did. Justin Shane Martin, 24, was shot did and his alleged accomplice will be charged in his death.

I have long been critical of the Castle Doctrine laws as unnecessary in either tort or criminal law to protect homeowners from liability. Instead, it has been used in many cases to justify or attempt to excuse unnecessary (here and here and here) or mistaken killings.

This is a good example of why these laws are not necessary. Martin was armed with a knife, which would have been sufficient under any definition of self-defense even without a Castle Doctrine law. No jury would convict McKinley in the use of lethal force in such a case. While Oklahoma is a Make My Day state, she is allowed to act in self-defense and is only required to act reasonably in the face of a threat. In the call, McKinley tells the dispatcher that her 3-month-old son was with her and says “I’ve got two guns in my hand. Is it OK to shoot him if he comes in this door?” The dispatcher responds “Well, you have to do whatever you can do to protect yourself. I can’t tell you that you can do that, but you have to do what you have to do to protect your baby.”

McKinley has had a very tough month. Her husband died a week earlier on Christmas Day from lung cancer. Adding to the nightmare for McKinley is that the men continued to breakdown the door for 20 minutes after she barricaded it with a couch.

What is interesting (and not unheard of) is the charge against Dustin Louis Stewart, 29, with first-degree murder. Stewart simply ran away after the shots were fired.

The men were believed to be after prescription drugs.

I have no sympathy for either man, including the dead man. However, is this a fair use of a felony murder provision? Here one of the culprits was killed in a justified use of lethal force and the defendant apparently was not armed and fled the scene. Breaking and entering an occupied home already comes with a heavy sentence. He should get such a heavy sentence, but is felony murder justified?

Source: ABC

30 thoughts on “Oklahoma Mother Calls Dispatch For Approval Before Shooting Intruder — Accomplice Then Charged With Murder”

  1. I agree with Professor Turley that the charge is excessive and I also do not like the Castle laws. It just gives people an excuse to shoot someone.
    I also wonder, as a few have mentioned earlier, how in the heck it can take 20 minutes for police to arrive?

  2. Supposedly the guy who ran way was unarmed … oh, really? If he also was carrying a knife, would that change the justification of a felony murder charge?

  3. Mfitch wrote, If Martin had suffered a heart attack from the stress of trying to push the couch-blocked door open?

    There are cases where burglars have been charged with felony murder after unintentionally inducing heart attacks in victims. I recall a case out of Brooklyn, NY, where the intruder was charged with felony murder: as he was climbing in through the window, he looked up to see a shotgun pointed at his face. As they were waiting for police to arrive, the resident suffered a fatal heart attack.

    In another case out of NY, a purse-snatcher was charged with felony murder after his elderly victim fell, was taken to the hospital, and died due to errors by the attending physician. But the felony murder charge stuck because the courts determined the purse snatcher had a violent history.

  4. As I understand it, the idea behind felony murder laws is sheer deterrence. It is a stop gap against claims that deaths caused in the commission of felonies were unintended. The idea here makes sense to me. But there are interesting questions at the margins. Suppose Martin had been shot and killed by police officers responding to the call. Would Stewart still have been chargeable under the FM law? If Martin had suffered a heart attack from the stress of trying to push the couch-blocked door open?

  5. Another question, why didn’t she turn the German Shepard Dog loose? Numerous interviews w/ her and her son also had a good sized GSD present. Any GSD worth its kibble would have shredded both intruders and made a meal of their reproductive parts.

  6. Reminds me of a former sister-in-law who was home alone in the middle of desolation in TX or OK late one night when a car drove in with its brights on. Car was left running, lights left on. The lights made her visitor a silhouette, a large man. She answered the door with a shotgun in ready mode and did not lower it. The uniformed officer made some chit-chat about stopping by to see if she was all right. He left. Guess he figured that she was able to take care of herself, all 85 lbs of her. She never saw him again.

  7. I bet a good GPS receiver or consulting Google Maps would have found her pronto. So the question, so far unanswered, is whether she called 911 near the end of the 20 minutes or near the end.

  8. Red Line….Felony Murder…This logic is stretched…someone said that it would make the negotiations easier…In this instant the defense counsel should file motions to dismiss this charge as not included in the intent of the legislation….even in common law….but then again….this is prosecutionial discretion….not in my opinion misconduct…

  9. Grady County, should be 1,100 square miles. Fatfingers hit the period instead of comma.

  10. I looked up what I could find about Grady County, OK. It appears to be one of the larger counties in the state. I did not find anything about the staffing of the Sheriff’s Office. Having gone over our local budget with our sheriff, I am aware of severe shortfalls in both staffing and equipment. Response times depend a lot on how many units are on duty that shift, and also how busy they are. If there weren’t many units available and they are all engaged in other duties (domestic violence calls, burglary investigations, car crashes, etc.) it is easy to see why it could take twenty minutes to respond to a call.

    Then there is the issue of actually finding the address. In our own medium sized county (378 square miles), we have close to a thousand miles of roads. Grady County, OK has over 1.100 square miles of area.

  11. Question:

    What police department couldn’t respond for TWENTY MINUTES while this dumb & dumber act was trying to break down a door with a couch in front of it?

    Why did it either a.) take her so long to call 911 or b.) take 911 so long to respond?

    I get that there are some very rural part, but twenty minutes is a pretty good lead time to have a first responder in the area, even if just a State Trooper over local, rural jurisdictions.

  12. Adding to the nightmare for McKinley is that the men continued to breakdown the door for 20 minutes after she barricaded it with a couch.


    Police must have been very busy that night.

  13. Sorry about the typo comment.
    I missed the “corrections” link at the top of the page.

  14. I am more than passing familiar with prosecutors overcharging defendants. By charging the accomplice with murder in the commission of a collateral felony, he can put the death penalty on the table, increasing the leverage for a plea for some serious time. No doubt the defense attorney is in the unenviable position of having to tell his client the best he can do is plead out to life–maybe even life without the possibility of parole–or risk the death penalty if it goes in front of a jury.

    Occasionally it backfires on a prosecutor when a defense attorney calls their bluff, but given the facts we know about this case, that would be tickling the tail of the dragon.

  15. The quote from ABC — “When you’re engaged in a crime such as first-degree burglary and a death results from the events of that crime, you’re subject to prosecution for it” — Oklahoma Assistant District Attorney James Walters.

    Well, “subject to prosecution” is okay by me, but murder is a big over-reach. Manslaughter or wrongful death I would buy, presuming the DA can prove Mr Stewart was not coerced into cooperating with the break-in. They are probably trying to intimidate Stewart into accepting a plea deal. Typical.

  16. Proofreading?

    It seems like a falrly straightforward application of felony murder to me. Moreover, did Stewart not know that Martin was armed? Did he not try to batter down a door for 20 minutes while a woman and her three-month-old were trapped inside? Were it not for his actions in aiding and encouraging his partner to break in, is it not more likely his partner would be alive today?

    This seems to make a bad test case because the equities are so overwhelmingly in favor of McKinley that it is, as you acknowledge, hard to muster even a shred of sympathy for her would-be assailants. Make my day, indeed.

  17. Typo: Accomplish vs accomplice

    I can’t understand the logic of the accomplice being charged with felony murder.

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