There is a new spring gun or man trap case in torts. I teach such cases as part of intentional torts starting with the famous case of Bird v. Holbrook in 1825. William Wasmund, 48, was convicted of rigging a shotgun (a favorite choice of spring gunners) and killed a neighbor. He was convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated battery in the death of Jeff Spicer, according to The Southern Illinoisian.
Wasmund tied a top to the shotgun and the door of a shed. It worked. Spicer was killed at the shed on Spet. 16, 2018. His lawyers insisted that he had been the victim of multiple thefts and that Spicer entered by breaking the lock with the intent to steal from them. They also noted that he had signs reading “no trespassing” and “do not enter.”
The common law has long barred the use of lethal force to protect property. The Bird case involved the use of a shotgun as a mantrap in the garden to protect valuable tulips. The court cited not only the lack of notice of the gun but Christian values in placing the value of human life above that of property.
The facts are strikingly similar to Katko v. Briney in Iowa (183 N.W.2d 657 (1971)). Marvin E. Katko was shot by a 20-gauge spring shotgun rigged by Edward Briney in an abandoned old farmhouse or shed. The building largely contained old bottles and other low value items. A jury awarded damages and the Iowa Supreme Court agreed that there was no legal privilege to use potentially lethal force in an uninhabited structure. Most states ban the use of spring guns or mantraps.
Illinois is one such state with an express criminalization of “spring guns.”