National debate erupted earlier this year when a neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed a young man he suspected of criminal intent in a Florida neighborhood. George Zimmerman, subsequently charged with second-degree murder, claims the shooting was justified under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law because Trayvon Martin assaulted him.
Another self-defense issue came to light under different circumstances Monday in Northern Kentucky when Earl Jones, a 92-year-old Boone County farmer, fatally shot 24-year-old Lloyd Maxwell of Richmond, who entered the basement of his home and came upstairs.
After two previous episodes of larceny on his property, Jones decided he’d had enough. Police put a surveillance camera in his house. Video of the intruders getting in through a pet entrance was broadcast on area TV stations this week after the shooting.
Home invasions are the crime du jour in many places, including Frankfort. Invaders typically rob and/or beat their victims. Some probably target elderly people as easy pickings for criminal opportunists. If that’s what the men caught on camera in Earl Jones’ country home had in mind, they picked the wrong 92-year-old.
A sinewy World War II veteran, schooled in the unforgiving ethos of kill or be killed, he told The Cincinnati Enquirer he heard a noise in his basement around 2 a.m. Monday, coolly picked up his .22 rifle and sat with the weapon across his lap as the invaders climbed the basement steps and then kicked open the interior door. Jones raised the rifle and fired one fatal shot into Maxwell’s chest. The intruder’s two companions removed his body in their car and later admitted to Kenton County Police that they’d been in the house.
While the investigation continues, the shooting seems to have been justified under Kentucky’s acceptance of the “castle doctrine,” which provides that homeowners have the right to use deadly force in defense of their lives and property if they believe it’s necessary to prevent criminal trespassing, robbery or burglary. Jurisdictions elsewhere impose a “duty to retreat” on residents confronting intruders.
As Jones sees it, he did what he had to do. “It was simple,” he told the Enquirer. “That man was going to take my life. He was hunting me. I was protecting myself.”
It disturbed him that Boone County sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene afterwards with their weapons drawn, demanding he raise his hands and surrender his rifle. “How am I going to protect myself if they come back looking for revenge?” he asked.
The biggest difference between this case and the Florida killing is that the latter occurred in a public place. Zimmerman was tailing Martin, possibly in defiance of a police dispatcher’s request that he back off. Jones, a widower who’s lived alone since 2006, was defending his own property – his legal “castle” – and potentially his life. When someone kicks in the door at 2 a.m., you don’t necessarily know the stranger’s intentions, but they probably aren’t friendly.
More people are finding themselves in similar situations. The Enquirer cited FBI statistics showing the number of felons killed by private citizens rose from 196 in 2005 to 278 in 2010. Taking a life should never be taken lightly, but sometimes it’s justified. Home defense is a right the law should continue to uphold.