Public sentiment this morning appears to be on the side of an unidentified armed citizen who traded shots with a car prowler in Maple Valley, killing the man, according to reports from several local news agencies including KING and the Seattle Times.
The incident raises questions about when a private citizen may use lethal force, but if emerging details about the incident are accurate, this may be a clear cut case of self-defense. Then, again, more details may cloud that question. While Seattle Times readers weighing in on the incident seem to favor the exercise of what is often referred to as “curbside justice,” a King County Sheriff’s Office spokesman told Examiner that investigators must still sort through all the details.
What they know is that the dead man and his girlfriend showed up in a car apparently stolen in Kent, and the license plates had apparently already been changed on that vehicle. The girlfriend was wanted on a King County felony warrant for burglary and was arrested. The dead man was apparently armed with a .45-caliber handgun and the truck owner who confronted him was armed with a 9mm pistol.
What does state statute say about the use of lethal force? Here it is:
Homicide is also justifiable when committed either:
(1) In the lawful defense of the slayer, or his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister, or of any other person in his or her presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or
(2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his or her presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he or she is..—RCW 9A.16.050
Neither the truck’s owner nor the girlfriend were wounded, but early reports suggest the dead man was hit several times, even though he took cover behind the truck he may have been trying to steal, or at least prowl.
As the investigation unfolds, we may learn the source of the handgun used by the dead man in what sounds like a gunfight. Was it his? Was it stolen?
The unidentified girlfriend will likely face additional charges in this case, especially because a death was involved, even if she didn't pull a trigger.
UPDATE: The King County Sheriff's office has issued an update on the incident. The truck's owner is licensed to carry a concealed pistol, according to that report. The stolen car was a Honda. More information is available here.
So far, it appears people reacting to the Times article think this case underscores the importance of the right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.
Now a question for readers: Faced with the same circumstances, knowing what the truck’s owner knew at the time, what would you have done? Don't be shy.