Almost no one disputes your right to protect yourself, your loved ones or your property when you’re threatened. OK, there are some. But one of the key aspects of this right is that the defender has to have a reasonable fear of death or bodily harm before using deadly force. It’s also a good idea not to warn the police that you’re going to kill the next burglar you catch on your property…
Jovan Milanovic, an auto lot owner in Colorado Springs, had been burglarized and told police he would shoot any burglars who returned. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, Robert Fox and Brian Corbin jumped the fence. Milanovic and two relatives were ready for them.
Corbin testified he saw two armed men charge out of a building and run in their direction, one of them shouting “we’re gonna get you” in an obscenity-laced threat. Corbin, who escaped by climbing over a car and jumping a fence, said he felt a bullet pass by him as someone fired four gunshots.
Fox was standing inside a small shed when a .45-caliber rifle bullet passed through the shed’s door and pierced his heart.
Milanovic probably thought he was in the clear when local prosecutors decided the men’s actions didn’t rise to the level of criminality. Or a jury wouldn’t convict them. Either way, none of the three were charged. But as OJ Simpson famously found, avoiding a criminal conviction doesn’t mean you won’t be liable in civil court where the standard of proof falls from convincing all members beyond a shadow of a doubt to majority rules based on a preponderance of the evidence.
Jurors found that Fox’s death was the result of “willful and deliberate” conduct by Jovan Milanovic, who was accused of firing the rifle, and Novak, who supplied the semiautomatic Heckler & Koch that Milanovic used in the killing.
The three men were accused of keeping an armed vigil over the auto lot and firing on the first burglars they saw. The men were angry over a series of thefts that began when someone broke in a week earlier and stole keys to customers’ automobiles as well as keys to buildings on the property.
Under Colorado’s self-defense laws, the use of deadly force is justified only under the “reasonable belief” that it’s necessary to prevent serious bodily injury or death. The jury found that none of the men had a legitimate claim of self-defense.
Property rights are not a lawful defense for using deadly force in Colorado, and the state’s so-called Make My Day [castle doctrine] law, which sets lower standard for using force, applies to households, not businesses.
Fox had knives in his pocket and one strapped to his leg. It isn’t clear if the defendants were even aware that he was armed, though. A six person El Paso jury awarded Fox’s daughter $300,000 on Friday.
While a large award to a criminal’s family is infuriating under almost any circumstances, Milanovic and his buddies left themselves wide open to the always unpredictable tender mercies of a jury. And they were damned lucky to have avoided jail time. The morals of this story: Know the castle doctrine laws in your state, if your state has one. [If not, call your representatives.] If you can avoid using a gun, do it at almost any cost, short of your life. And keep your mouth shut.
[h/t AI stalwart Patrick Brown]