National "Stand Your Ground" debate hits home

Does the law give people a license to kill and legalize in-home murder?

In April, 22-year-old Cordell Jude shot and killed Daniel Adkins Jr., a mentally disabled pedestrian who walked in front of Jude's car as he was pulling up to the window of a Taco Bell drive-thru in Arizona, which passed Stand Your Ground in 2010. Jude thought he saw Adkins wield a metal pipe in the air, but it was actually a dog leash. No arrest was made.

In June, a judge in Miami dismissed a second-degree murder charge against Greyston Garcia after he chased a suspected burglar and stabbed him to death. The judge decided the stabbing was justified because the burglar had swung a bag of stolen car radios at Garcia. The judge found Garcia was "well within his rights to pursue the victim and demand the return of his property."

In October, citing the state's newly strengthened castle doctrine law, Montana prosecutor Ed Corrigan declined to indict Brice Harper, who had shot and killed Dan Fredenberg, the husband of the woman with whom Harper was having an affair. Harper killed an unarmed Fredenberg when he walked into Harper's garage.

Byron Smith killed two teenagers who attempted to rob his Little Falls home on Thanksgiving Day
courtesy of the Morrison County Sheriff's Office
Byron Smith killed two teenagers who attempted to rob his Little Falls home on Thanksgiving Day
Elliot Fineman (top) of the National Gun Victims Action Council says that Stand Your Ground "enables paranoid crazies." Former assistant St. Paul city attorney Tom Weyandt opposed a Minnesota Stand Your Ground law introduced last year.
courtesy of Tom Weyandt
Elliot Fineman (top) of the National Gun Victims Action Council says that Stand Your Ground "enables paranoid crazies." Former assistant St. Paul city attorney Tom Weyandt opposed a Minnesota Stand Your Ground law introduced last year.

"I told him I had a gun," Harper told the police, "but he just kept coming at me."

And on December 10 in Rochester, Minnesota, a 61-year-old man shot and critically wounded his 16-year-old granddaughter when he mistook her for an intruder entering his house just before 11 p.m. The grandfather, who reportedly had a recent burglary at the nearby Rochester Recreation Center on his mind, responded to a noise outside by arming himself with a handgun and firing two rounds at the figure he saw standing on his patio. The girl was in critical condition but is expected to survive.


Minnesota has a law on the books that stipulates that shooting an intruder is legal if the shooter has a reasonable belief that doing so would prevent a felony from occurring inside the home. Nevertheless, Gov. Mark Dayton early last year vetoed a "Stand Your Ground" bill that the Republican-controlled Legislature had passed with the support of some Democratic lawmakers from rural districts.

Minnesota's Stand Your Ground bill, H.F. 1467, was sponsored by Republican state Rep. Tony Cornish and state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, and would have been among the "craziest gun laws in America," according to Salon. Had Dayton not vetoed it, the Minnesota version would have exempted homeowners from any duty to retreat if an intruder enters illegally; allowed the use of deadly force if someone is threatened with substantial, albeit temporary, bodily harm (including a punch to the face); granted total immunity from criminal prosecution; and disallowed the arrest of the suspect until police had fully considered any claim of self-defense.

Tom Weyandt, a former assistant city attorney in St. Paul, published a detailed critique of H.F. 1467 last year in which he did a line-by-line reading of Minnesota's vetoed Stand Your Ground bill in comparison to Florida's law, coming to the conclusion that Minnesota's version was far worse.

"The law currently says you can use deadly force if you're subjected to the risk of great bodily harm or death," explains Weyandt. "They [proposed changing] it to lower the standard to substantial bodily harm, which could mean as little as a bruise — a temporary visible injury. If you feared that I was gonna punch you in the eye, under their proposal you could kill me. Every doofus on the street who says 'self-defense' would get a much greater chance of a walk than he has now."

The deluge of Stand Your Ground killings hasn't deterred gun-rights advocates like Representative Cornish — nor did the December school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Cornish said in November that, with his party now in the legislative minority, there was "zero" chance he'd propose the "deadly force" bill again this session. But the Sandy Hook tragedy, and a push by the White House for stronger gun laws, apparently changed his mind.

Cornish recently reloaded, insinuating that he'll make another effort to allow teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons even if a school's principal or administrators don't approve. Current law requires permission from administrators before a teacher can bring a weapon to school. Cornish will also try to require public colleges to let students carry handguns on campus if they have the applicable permits.

Had it passed Governor Dayton's desk last year, would Minnesota's shoot-first bill have given Byron Smith a get-out-of-jail-free card? Cornish doesn't think so.

"You could feasibly see [Smith] mounting a defense for the first shot," Cornish says. "But after that initial one shot, then he went completely out of the realm of reality and executed two helpless people."

But if Minnesota had Stand Your Ground, would Little Falls authorities even have had the power to question Smith, listen to the audio recordings, and learn how he killed the two teens?

"They would not have been able to arrest him until they could come up with enough evidence that his claim of self-defense was unreasonable," says Weyandt. "In Florida, everybody gave the chief of police [in the Travyon Martin case] a ton of crap. But [under a Stand Your Ground law] you can't arrest a guy until you can prove his claim of defense was invalid."

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