When does home defense become 2nd degree murder? The AP and my hometown paper, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, combined to report that “castle doctrine” shootings in Missouri totaled seven in 2011, up from two the previous year. The article provides a good run-down of what a Brady flack predictably refers to as “shoot-first” laws, but not every case is without some questions. . .

In a case earlier in 2011, a man broke into his ex-girlfriend’s St. Louis home and tried to attack her, according to police. Another man who was also in the home came to the woman’s aid and pointed a gun at the intruder, Emmett Terry, but didn’t shoot.

Instead, he handed the gun over to the woman, who pointed it at Terry as he stood with his back to a wall, according to police. The woman’s friend helped her steady the gun and point it at Terry.

“I told you if you came back, I was gonna kill you,” she said before fatally shooting him, according to police reports.

St. Louis police thought the killing of Terry in April was a crime and sought second-degree murder charges against the woman and the man. But prosecutors declined to file them because the shooting could be justified under the castle doctrine.

This strikes me as a companion to Robert’s post “Self-Defense Tip: Don’t Hold Anyone At Gunpoint” where el jefe commends the Armed Intelligentsia to forgo the Pepper Anderson routine and shoot the bad guy rather than imperil yourself in an attempt to hold them until backup arrives. [ED: As I remember it, I advised our AI to let the bad guy go if at all possible or practical.]

In the above case, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around shooting someone once they are backed up against a wall and subdued enough to let someone hand the gun to another person and help them steady, aim and fire. At the risk of making an understatement of enormous proportions, this seems to me to be morally problematic at least.

Then again, I’ve never been the victim of someone bigger, stronger and angrier violating a restraining order to break into my home. The elimination of the duty to retreat requirement that castle doctrine laws afford is certainly an important advancement of the individual’s right to defend himself in his own home.

44 Responses to Self Defense or Murder in the Second?

  1. If he wasn’t in her house and intending to do violence to her, he would be alive today and there would have been no news article or questions. This was not the first time he had done this and would not be the last.

    • I disagree with this sentiment. It’s the flip side of “if you’re doing nothing wrong, you don’t have to worry about the cops.” If the intruder ceased to be a threat, the woman shouldn’t have fired.

      Responsible gun owners should take care to applaud every shooting of a BG. Not only is that supporting questionable actions, it paints us as the bloodthirsty vigilantes gun-grabbers say we are.

      • I would imagine the majority who comment here are with you on that, Rokurota, but there are always a few of those macho guys who spout off at the mouth. I often wonder if guys who speak like that would be the first ones to shit themselves and hide in the closet. Real tough guys don’t spend so much time trying to convince everybody how tough they are.

      • I’m unaware of the details of the incident, however it’s fairly possible she felt he would come back to harm her later if he’d made the decision to do so.
        Though again with many of these the morality is tricky to determine from an outside perspective.

      • I think you are right, Stupid Face (boy that looks weird after I wrote it) – Morality is more complicated than the law.

  2. Strange story, I’m not sure I believe it. I suspect that the boyfriend shot the intruder but was then afraid that the castle doctrine as applied in that state may not protect him since he wasn’t in his home. So he concocted the story that she did the shooting and then to explain why there would be powder residue on his hands he claimed that he helped her hold the gun.

    Still, it’s a happy ending no matter how they got there.

    • The CD would have applied even if it’s not a home he owns, he is protecting someone in a close quarter situation. It’s her home, not the ex boyfriend so he’s trespassing. You don’t have to own the property you are standing in to defend the life of a loved one, even if it’s a short romance.

      • I assume that he didn’t have time to consult a law book before making the story. It’s just a very fishy story.

  3. The fact they know what was said to him before he got it means they violated the STFU rule. Time to take their chances with a jury, and probably lose since they neutralized the threat, recognized the perp, and acted out of malice towards him. This would be the worst test for castle doctrine imaginable.
    The least they should have done is hand him a knife or club and call it a defensive shooting. STFU is a real good policy in all cases.

  4. This case is interesting to consider. It appears that he was no longer a threat and still they intentionally shot (or is it killed/murdered/executed?) him. Then again, if he was kept alive, even jailed, he could later come back again maybe armed with intent to murder. It is their castle and not his yet I hope not to read about too many sickos inviting someone to their home later to murder them and then hide behind castle doctrine. Yes, I know such an unfolding of events probably did not happen in the above real world case.

    • I thought of the “catch and release” aspect of restraining order violations. Depending on the jurisdiction, you don’t get sent to jail for violating your restraining order until you have killed someone.

      I know of me who have had the cops beat their ass because the exsaid the guy came around illegally.

      I’d like to hear what the ladies think. I will probably get through my entire life without having to ask for a restraining order on someone (If my wife decides to kill me, it will be without warning and there will not be any evidence).

      • Yeah. I date a redhead. I’d you’re not worried about catching the business end of an ice pick in your sleep, there’s just not enough excitement in the relationship.

        • All it takes for a man to get arrested, handcuffed, thrown in jail, and denied access to his home and children is a single phone call. All relationships offer men the potential for lots of new adventures.

      • “I know of me who have had the cops beat their ass because the exsaid the guy came around illegally.”

        True. Many cops are chivalrous ‘white knights’ who rush in with their batons held high to save the damsel from the evil male dragon. Check out the sites ‘A Voice for Men’ and ‘Angry Harry’.

  5. “this seems to me to be morally problematic at least.”

    That would be my sentiment.
    My gun is for self-defence, not to extract punishment.

    That cowardly act, in my view, reversed the tables. What we see is how the perp became the victim, and the potential victims became the perps.

    I’ve never seen murder as a morally relative. The story as presented is one of murder, and the perps got away with it.

    I don’t know who is responsible for prosecuting the murderers, but they should be fired.

    • That was my gut reaction, but I have had friends and family members live in constant fear of an ex. There are things that are morally wrong for me, but I live in a different social space as a big burly man. There is little I fear.

      A woman has a different set of survival and defense calculations to make right out of the gate. A woman might feel the need to shoot where I might retreat.

      Staring down her tormentor, know that this time she has a gun, next time she might be in a parking lot alone…I think this changes the moral calculus.

      Ladies?

  6. Maybe this will be a lesson to more criminals that if you enter some ones home without permission that you might not leave that place alive. Especially since more people are buying hand guns for personal protection and more states are added these castle laws. I have no sympathy for the guy who was shot and killed. Even if you want to call it an execution style killing. He would still be alive if he did not break into that home. I do not care for the fact that some one who breaks into a home and gets shot or killed by the owner can somehow end up with better protection through law.

  7. I understand the law may not agree with this, but once you invade someone’s home all bets are off. By invading someone’s homestead in my OPINION you waive any and all rights to have any amount of pity or concern. That scumbag learned about the law of unintended consequences, and is no longer a concern for the public establishment or a threat to anyone else now.

  8. It seems to me that if the man had the time to safely turn the gun over to the woman and help her fire the gun, then the grave and immediate danger had passed.

    If so, I would characterize that as an execution and not self-defense.

  9. Except in New York City, women are not prosecuted for offing bad guys even if the circumstances are, shall we say, a little questionable. That’s because there is a practical (as opposed to a legal) presumption that women are in grave danger and cannot defend themselves from any man and are justifiably scared sh!tless by bad guys. The same presumption applies to the elderly when faced with a threat from the younger. Elderly women can bump off some Campfire Girls without adverse ramifications.

    Only kidding about the Campfire Girls. They’re always out of season.

    • Ralph,

      A few days ago I spoke with an attorny in NYC regarding local gun ownership and use in a HD situation. The attorney is an ex-cop and a pro gun advocate. He told me that while NYC’s gun laws are nuts, the city has very supportive laws of residents in defending their homes from anyone who breaks in to include killing the perps (when necessary of course).

      • can you kill the perps with a gun or do you have to use large objects and kitchenware? NYC has problems with the hardware, in fact all of NYS is a registration zone where you need a note from your mother and a judge to possess a handgun.
        I suppose you could use a 12 gauge instead of a .22/ one case where a bad guy would be better off under a different set of rules.

      • Aharon, I can cite a very recent case where a woman justifiably killed her ex, was acquitted on the homicide charge and convicted on a gun charge. She’s serving 5 years, and would have gotten less time for manslaughter 2.

        So much for New York and its enlightened approach.

  10. Assuming the story is true, it’s a sticky situation, but if the guy is not an immediate threat, then a deadly shooting I believe is not justified. As much as the guy probably deserved it.

    As you touched on at the end of the post, this is the flip side of the “don’t hold someone at gunpoint” thing. What else could she possibly have done here? He wasn’t an immediate threat so shooting wasn’t necessary, letting him go would have been dangerous because he could’ve just come back, perhaps ready this time and willing to murder first. It seems that the only reasonable option was to hold him until the police got there.

    Well, reasonable to me anyway. I’m sure gun-grabbers would argue that the only reasonable option was to let him rape and kill her, because as we all know, it’s guns that cause violence, like the gun the intruder was using…wait…

  11. “Come here, honey, let me help you hold the firearm, now, kill him”. That couple had way too much time on their hands.

  12. I would call that an execution. They may e protected from the law. But just like how a bad law doesn’t necessarily make something wrong, castle doctrine sure as hell doesn’t make this right.

    • “But just like how a bad law doesn’t necessarily make something wrong, castle doctrine sure as hell doesn’t make this right.”

      Fair point.

    • What if he’s facing the wall laughing and saying “wait until I catch you asleep, without that gun! Then you’ll wish you never lived!” (laugher).

      He could have *easily* avoided being killed by simply not breaking into the womans house and leaving her alone when she got, you know, a restraining order!

      People always want to judge the last 10 seconds of the confrontation when you need to judge the *whole* confrontation which might have been going on for weeks, or months, or even years in this case.

      But regardless, like I said, if he wanted to avoid being killed it would have been very very simple to avoid. Just go have a beer and a burger with a friend instead of breaking into a scared womans house.

    • bp – As a matter of law, the issue is settled, but I think you make exceptional points as a matter of morality. If the woman felt that her attacker would keep trying until he was successful then the moral equation changes.

  13. Since we live life in the gray area, at the end of the day I believe that she feared for her life..maybe not at that moment, but certainly in the future (based on their history). So, does the CD apply for her fear of a future (in her mind) deadly confrontation?

  14. That back to the wall shooting sounds pretty cold blooded but, if my fiance’s exboyfriend kept breaking in all the time trying to hurt her I can’t say that I wouldn’t shoot him.

  15. All the “shoulda’, coulda’, woulda’ ” discussion on this incident still leaves my moral compass pointing to the apparent facts that the intruder was subdued to the extent he was not actively resisting the other participants and unarmed while they deliberately made the decision to shoot him and watch him die. I wonder what is in their dreams at night and what they see in the mirror every morning….

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