Killer or victim?

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Murder or self defense?

A man convicted of murdering three in an act he considered to be self-defense is getting a new trial: http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/01/31/chris-bishop/

I find this story very interesting precisely because it teeters right on the line between reasonable force and unreasonable. I absolutely support Bishop’s right to gun down home invaders wielding weapons. They broke into his home, then into the bedroom where he was holed up. One of them was wielding a sword. Should he have shot them? Absolutely.

He continued to shoot in his hallway as the intruders fled. I don’t have a problem with that. They were in his house with intent to seriously harm or kill him. Even shooting them in the back is justified

He continued to shoot from his doorway. Was that right? Probably not. But I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. Once someone has come to your home to kill you and you’ve fired back, there’s a limit to how ‘reasonable’ we should expect you to be. You’re in the middle of combat; homicidal anger may be understandable enough (a feeling a reasonable person would have under the circumstances) that, while not justified, it shouldn’t garner a murder conviction.

This allowance gets pushed right to the edge, though, when Bishop fired on a person 40-some metres from his front door. The person was already injured by Bishop and had collapsed. As he tried to get up, Bishop shot him dead.

Hmm. That one’s tricky for me. I’m a fairly strong defender of the castle doctrine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_doctrine) but not an absolutist. It’s pretty clear the imminent threat was over. And shooting someone at a distance – there’s no mention he pursued the attacker and shot him at close range – requires enough calm to aim properly and fire. Bishop wanted the man dead, period, so he made sure he was.

I’m sympathetic. I don’t think it makes you a criminal if you want to kill five people who’ve just broken into your home to try and maim or kill you. But…

…gray area or not, a line must be drawn somewhere. Bishop had already injured this man, and the man was now at a distance that made him completely harmless to Bishop. By successfully making his murderous shot, Bishop demonstrated he was calm enough to think and aim. That means he was calm enough to opt not to shoot the man again.

Bishop doesn’t deserve the life sentence he received. I have no sympathy for his ‘victims’. But his behavior, in that final instance, exceeded what is reasonable. It looks to me (with my extensive legal training as an opinionated blogger!) like second degree murder fits the crime, but the minimum sentence of 10 years is excessive. The minimum sentence for manslaughter with a firearm, four years, sounds more just.

Give the story a read and post your thoughts. I’m curious to hear other perspectives on this.

 

UPDATE: http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/great-grandmother-shields-toddler-tornado-destroys/nWB5K/ (OK, this story still has destruction…)

 

 

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