Gwendolyn Jenrette can be forgiven for putting security cameras around her modest Miami home. She lives in Liberty City, a high-crime neighborhood in a high-crime town. Her low-slung duplex backs onto the railroad tracks and has been targeted in the past.
She can also be forgiven for racing home when, on Thursday afternoon, her security system alerted her to another break-in at the property.
But can she be forgiven for, according to police, fatally shooting a teenager as he fled her house, even as officers were on their way to help?
That is the question now facing the state’s attorney’s office.
Seventeen-year-old Travon Johnson died Thursday night after Jenrette shot him once as he allegedly fled the scene of the home invasion, according to Miami-Dade police. There have been no indications that Johnson was armed.
The slaying of the teenage burglary suspect was reported triumphantly by local television station WSVN, which said Jenrette had “turned the tables” on Johnson.
“Police say this would-be robber chose the wrong home because this homeowner did more than just call the cops,” reported WSVN’s Brandon Beyer. “She had a gun.”
But Johnson’s family said the young man didn’t deserve to die over mere property, which they said he hadn’t even taken.
“I don’t care if she have her gun license, her rights or any of that. That is way beyond the law,” Johnson’s cousin Nautika Harris told CBS Miami. “Way beyond.”
The law on home invasions and use of force, however, varies widely from one state to the next. Similar cases across the United States have produced starkly different outcomes, with some homeowners who shot intruders charged with manslaughter or even murder.
The Miami shooting comes at a crucial moment in the debate over gun control in this country. In January, President Obama announced new executive orders to combat gun violence, angering gun rights advocates. And amid an incessant string of mass shootings, states continue to expand their open-carry regulations.
As violent crime edged up last year for the first time in decades, America appears divided over whether increased gun ownership is part of the problem or the solution.
Over the past two years, a handful of U.S. homeowners have been charged for fatally shooting intruders.
In 2013, James George Stiffler fatally shot a man he found allegedly ransacking his Helena, Mont., home. The homeowner, then 66, said he feared his wife was in the house and that the intruder, 37-year-old Henry Thomas Johnson, was dangerous.
At first, authorities sided with Stiffler. But then the medical examiner determined that Johnson had been shot in the back.
“I believed Stiffler was not at fault,” Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton told the Billings Gazette. “But forensic evidence indicates a different event.”
Prosecutors charged Stiffler with murder in 2015. His attorneys slammed the charges.
“Mr. Stiffler has mourned the loss of life, even as he was left with no choice but to fire his weapon,” Stiffler’s attorneys said in a statement. “But it is a travesty of justice that Johnson’s conduct also now threatens to ruin Mr. Stiffler’s life as well.”
Last month, a jury failed to reach a verdict in the murder trial, according to the Missoulian.
In another recent case, an Akron, Ohio, man was indicted in October for fatally shooting a home invader. David Hillis, 21, was charged with voluntary manslaughter, a first-degree felony, according to Cleveland.com. He pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial for the Aug. 7, 2015, slaying of Marcus Glover.
When Glover and another man tried to rob Hillis, he grabbed a gun and chased them outside, shooting several shots after them, according to police. Glover was found dead two houses away. Akron prosecutors said that by chasing the intruders, Hillis was no longer protected by Ohio’s Castle Doctrine law, which allows homeowners to use lethal force, according to Cleveland.com.
In many more cases, though, homeowners have not been charged with a crime after killing suspected burglars.
Perhaps the most famous recent case occurred in July 2014, when 80-year-old Long Beach, Calif., homeowner Thomas Greer fatally shot a female intruder even after she begged for her life and claimed she was pregnant.
According to prosecutors, the woman, 28-year-old Andrea Miller, and a male accomplice had robbed Greer at least once before. When they returned on July 22, 2014, Greer grabbed his gun, chased them outside and shot Miller in the back.
“Don’t shoot me, I’m pregnant! I’m going to have a baby!” Miller claimed, falsely, before Greer shot her once more.
“He meted out his own punishment,” wrote syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette. “Was that because Greer was angry and frustrated at being victimized and wanted retribution? If so, that’s not a good excuse for taking a life.”
In January 2015, prosecutors announced they would not file charges against Greer, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Source: The Washington Post | Michael E. Miller