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Prosecutor: Castle Doctrine not a license to kill intruders


Site Owner
October 7, 2011
By Denise G. Callahan, Staff Writer

9:30 PM Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Backers of the “Castle Doctrine†are lauding the decision not to charge a local man with the murder of an intruder who threatened him in his home.

The Castle Doctrine law gives Ohioans the right to use lethal force to protect their person and property, but the Butler County prosecutor said he wanted to make it clear that the law is not meant as a free pass to execute intruders.

A Butler County grand jury exonerated 84-year-old Lindenwald resident Charles Foster on Tuesday, finding no fault when he shot and killed Ed Stevens, 75, on Jan. 3.

Stevens, who suffered from dementia and Alzheimers, crashed into Foster’s garage, began wrecking things in the man’s basement and eventually hit him with a board.

Foster said he didn’t know the castle doctrine existed, but he knew he had a right to protect himself.

He said he shot Stevens once in the arm and when that didn’t stop him, he pulled the trigger again.

“I was scared of what the man was going to do†Foster said. “I tried to stop him, I told him to stop several times, I hit him with my fist once, he did not stop.

“When he went into the basement and started tearing things up, I went down and told him to stop and he hit me with a board.

“So I came back upstairs and got my gun and fired at him, I didn’t intend to kill him.â€

Police said Stevens had meant to stop at the home next door, owned by his relatives David and Shirley Lillibridge.

Foster, at home Wednesday, said he was glad to hear the news from the grand jury.

“I’m pleased it’s over with,†Foster said. “I’ve been more alert to who comes around now.â€

Enacted in 2008, the Castle Doctrine allows people to use deadly force in their home or occupied vehicle if an intruder is threatening them.

Prior to the law, people had a duty to retreat first and if they couldn’t run, and hurt or killed their intruders, they had to prove they were justified.

Now, it is presumed to be an act of self-defense.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser cautioned that the Castle Doctrine doesn’t allow people to go on a shooting spree when someone unlawfully enters their home.

“The presumption of self-defense to a home invasion quickly disappears when an assailant surrenders or is no longer a threat,†he said
“While your home is and should be respected as your castle, the use of deadly force must actually be used in self-defense and not just because someone has unlawfully entered your castle.â€

A Cuyahoga County case pending at the Ohio Supreme Court challenges the broad use of the doctrine for home invasion cases.

A jury found Carl Kozlosky guilty of murder for shooting Andre Coleman six times in the back after he broke in Kozlosky’s door looking for the girl he had been partying with. Citing the Castle Doctrine, the 8th District Court of Appeals overturned the guilty verdict.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor has asked the high court to determine whether this was a case of self-defense or murder, given that someone shot in the back six times would appear to be surrendering or attempting to escape. The court is pondering whether or not to take the case.

Prior to the law’s passage, some people worried that law-abiding Ohioans would turn into gun-toting vigilantes. There are no statistics available that would either refute or validate that fear.
At least 30 other states have passed legislation similar to the law in Ohio.

After Florida passed its “Stand Your Ground†law in late 2005, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported that out of the 84 homicides reported in 2011 in Palm Beach County, six were determined to be justifiable or resulted in no charges due to the new law that mirrors Ohio’s.

There were four cases in 2010 and three each in 2009 and 2008, according to media reports.

In Butler County, Sheriff’s Deputy T.J. Smith, who handles concealed-carry permits for the county, said he has not seen a spike in gun permits since the law passed. But, he added, you don’t need a permit for home use.

He said the county has typically been number two or three in the state in terms on issuing licenses, and he processes on average 1,500 to 1,600 gun licenses a year.

Hamilton’s Acting Police Chief Joe Murray said he hasn’t seen a jump in intruder injuries or deaths since the doctrine was enacted, but that is probably because true home invasions — not ones that involve drug deals — are very rare. He can only remember one other case a couple years ago where someone protected their home during an invasion.

“When you hear about them, they are odd and they stand out, because they just don’t happen that often,†he said.

Middletown Police Lt. Scott Reeve agreed that home invasions are rare, so the Castle Doctrine also rarely comes into play here.

Home invasions with deadly results are rare, but Ian Friedman, a legal expert and past president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he believes the law is a good one.

Probably the best feature of the castle doctrine, according to Friedman, is that people are no longer required flee from their attackers.

“If you were able to get out the back door and run away, you had to do that first,†he said. “I think that was absurd.

“First off, you’ve got your family to round up while someone is in the house and second, I would be terrified to run out because what if there is another person outside?â€

Contact this reporter at (513) 696-4525 or dcallahan@coxohio.com.

Prosecutor: Castle Doctrine not a license to kill intruders