An Akron, Ohio homeowner was arraigned yesterday on a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the Aug. 7 shooting death of a man who had apparently broken into his home, and some readers of the Akron Beacon Journal are suggesting that instead of being prosecuted, he ought to be congratulated.
While this was happening, the man arrested following last week’s deadly rampage in Puyallup was in court yesterday facing 17 charges including first-degree murder. His alleged crimes terrorized an entire neighborhood and left one man dead, and one is now left to wonder whether Pierce County authorities might have prosecuted any neighbor who might have intervened and shot the suspect dead in his tracks.
At what point does self-defense become manslaughter or murder? It’s a legitimate question with more than 496,000 active Washington concealed pistol licenses in circulation, according to a report from the state Department of Licensing at the end of last month. There are more than a million gun owners in this state, and if they follow the national trend, a majority own firearms for personal protection.
In Akron, according to the newspaper and WKYC News, 21-year-old David Hillis, the son of a former sheriff’s deputy, fatally shot 25-year-old Marcus Glover after he and an alleged accomplice, Terry Tart, forced their way into Hillis’ home. They allegedly were both armed and threatened him. It is not clear from reports what they were after, but Hillis apparently didn’t know either man.
Hillis came up with his own gun and opened fire as the men fled, according to published reports. That may be where he ran afoul of Ohio self-defense law, and that will be up to a jury to sort out.
Ironically, Tart has also been charged in Glover’s death because it happened as a result of the crime the two men were allegedly committing at the Hillis residence, according to Fox8 News. Tart, it was reported, was also jailed on unrelated charges.
The elder Hillis, who arrived at the home after the shooting, is also reportedly in trouble for allegedly interfering with the investigation. He will be in court Friday to face charges of “failure to comply, obstructing official business, disorderly conduct and misconduct at an emergency,” the newspaper reported.
So, should it be acceptable for an armed private citizen to shoot a fleeing felon? There are a multitude of videos floating around that show shopkeepers firing at people who just tried to rob them, frequently after trading gunfire. If two armed guys break into your home – regardless of the time of day or night – should the law allow you to open fire, and keep shooting even as they flee?
And what about the Puyallup incident? Yesterday, suspect Nathen Terault entered a not guilty plea against a stack of charges including the murder of Richard Johnson one week ago today. Puyallup police fired at him, hit him once, and one officer finally rammed him with a patrol vehicle outside the Puyallup Fairgrounds.
Not that anyone in Johnson’s neighborhood could have known it at the time, but Terault is a convicted felon and the Tacoma News Tribune reports today that most of the charges contain firearms enhancements. If convicted, Terault could easily spend decades in prison, if not the rest of his life.
What might have happened under Washington State’s use-of-force statute to any of Johnson’s neighbors, if one or more of them had shot the suspect? Many people believe the Evergreen State has one of the more rational use-of-force/self-defense laws in the country.
The use of lethal force can be a heated subject, rife with chest-thumping rhetoric countered by pontifications toward the sanctity of all life. The right of self-preservation is probably the oldest “natural right” there is, dating back to prehistoric times when kill-or-be-killed was the first rule of survival.
Today we have laws and courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges who may be too soft or too hard on criminals, depending upon one’s perspective. All of these have the luxury of hindsight. Life-or-death decisions must often be made in the split-second.
As the case in Akron shows, those decisions can have potential lifelong consequences. By the same token, deciding on a life of crime can have life-ending consequences as well.
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