An 80-year-old man came back to his Long Beach, California home Tuesday night to find a man and a woman ransacking the house while committing a burglary. The couple attacked homeowner Tom Greer, and continued their robbery when they thought the frail senior citizen was beaten. Unfortunately for them, Greer wasn’t quite done. He had retrieved a .22-caliber revolver and the couple attempted to beat a hasty retreat, fleeing towards the alley behind the home.
The story should have ended at that point as just one of hundreds of successful defensive gun uses that occur every day across the United States where the mere presence of a firearm sends criminals fleeing.
But unfortunately, the incident didn’t end there.
“I come back and they see me with a gun, and they run,” he said.
The man escaped, but the woman fell after being struck by Greer’s gunfire in an alley behind the house.
“She says, ‘Don’t shoot me, I’m pregnant! I’m going to have a baby!’ And I shot her anyway,” Greer said.
When asked what he saw happen to the woman after he fired shots, Greer responded: “She was dead. I shot her twice, she best be dead … (The man) had run off and left her.”
“I’ve never in my life shot anybody, killed anybody,” Greer said.
Greer was being treated at the hospital Wednesday for a severe shoulder and collarbone injury, but he hoped to send a warning to the man who got away.
“I shot her so that’s going to leave a message on his mind for the rest of his life,” Greer said.
But here’s the thing: the print story doesn’t exactly match the series of events as told by Greer in the NBC-4 video (at the link).
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The print story makes it sounds like Greer shot the woman once, that she then fell to the ground and subsequently begged for her life, and then Greer shot her again to finish her off. Such a killing would almost certainly be viewed as a murder by prosecutors.
In the video that the print article is presumably based upon, the shooting is described quite differently:
“The Lady couldn’t run as fast as the man, so I shot her in the back twice.”
In the text article, NBC-4 makes it sound like Greer executed a wounded burglar. In the video, Greer describes what can be construed as a single firing event consisting of multiple shots, two of which struck the fleeing female burglar.
While this is a distinction without a difference from the perspective of the dead burglar, what actually happened, and precisely where it happened, is going to be of major importance to the prosecutor’s office.
If Greer fired shots at the couple as they were retreating from his home—with the woman screaming “Don’t shoot me I’m pregnant!” as she ran, with her collapsing in the alley—then the prosecutor would likely pursue a manslaughter case (if the prosecutor files charges). Greer’s defense attorney could then plausibly claim that Greer fired because he was severely injured (he was treated at the hospital) and he thought they were retreating to obtain at tactical advantage and were still a threat. He could quite conceivably win an acquittal if this case goes to trial and the evidence supports this version of events.
But if Greer followed them out of the home into the alley to fire, he’s likely to have a much harder time arguing that he had a legitimate self-defense claim, and if he downed the woman and then shot her again in the back after she was down, he would seem to have a very good chance of facing not manslaughter, but murder charges.
By now, I suspect that the prosecutor’s office has obtained the unedited video of NBC-4’s interview of Mr. Greer, and is likely using that video as part of the evidence being considered as they determine whether to charge him in the shooting, and if so, what the charges will be.
In general terms, there are relatively few instances where a citizen has the legal justification to use lethal force against an unarmed and fleeing criminal. In most jurisdictions in the United States, self-defense is a valid claim for the use of deadly force when the defender has a credible and imminent fear of grave bodily injury or death to his/her person, or to another.
Does it appear to you that Mr. Greer’s case meets that standard, based upon either version of events told in this story?