Castle Doctrine, or 2nd Degree Murder?

There is an interesting self-defense case developing after a man was shot after threatening his ex-girlfriend and another man inside her Winchester, Missouri home (our bold below):


A man fatally shot inside a West County home Tuesday night had barged into the home after threatening his ex-girlfriend and another man, police say.

Relatives of the man who was shot, however, are questioning the official account and say they want more investigation into how he ended up dead.

The dead man, identified by police Wednesday as Joel Wright, 41, was shot once in the head about 10 p.m. Tuesday. The shooting was at a home in the 400 block of Chamberlin Drive. The home is in the city of Winchester, southwest of the intersection of Manchester and Sulphur Spring roads.

The 31-year-old man who fired the fatal shot was arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder but released after prosecutors declined to immediately charge him pending further information. His case could fall under Missouri’s “castle doctrine” law, which gives residents leeway in using deadly force in their homes.

Edward Magee, a spokesman for Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s office, declined to comment on the case.

St. Louis County Police Officer Shawn McGuire said Wright, who lived nearby in the 200 block of Lakeside Drive, had made threats earlier in the evening Tuesday against the ex-girlfriend and shooter. Police didn’t elaborate on what those threats were. Wright went to the shooter’s home on Chamberlin and started banging on the front door, McGuire said.

The man who lived there opened the door carrying a gun. He told Wright to leave, but Wright came into the home and reached toward his back, the shooter told police. He told police he thought Wright was reaching for a gun. He fired one shot, hitting Wright in the head.

The brief police summary of the shooting doesn’t say if Wright had a weapon. McGuire declined further comment once the case was presented to the prosecutor’s office.

Under Missouri’s castle doctrine law, people who encounter an intruder in their homes or vehicles — or on their property, under a more recent expansion of the law — are given more leeway in using deadly force.


I don’t see how prosecutors have a path to conviction here unless the man who shot Wright stupidly confessed to something after officers arrived that can be used against him.

The only real mistake the younger man made that I can determine from this article is that he should not have let Wright into the home at all. He should have kept the door looked and had the woman call 911 while barricaded inside the home at a good defensible position where he could cover the door.

Other than that one error, his actions seem easily defensible. Wright had threatened them previously, was in the process of threatening them inside their home, and allegedly made what we would reasonably call a “furtive movement” in reaching behind his back.

Wright could have deescalated the scene by not coming to the house, not attempting to come inside when he saw the younger man with a gun in his hand, and not reaching behind his back in a manner that would easily be interpreted as reaching for a weapon.

There is apparently a lot of bad blood and history between the woman and Mr. Wright, with restraining orders and allegations of theft, but it really doesn’t get much more simple than what we’ve discussed of what was happening in the moments leading up to the shooting.


Don’t force your way into someone else’s home.

You’ll very likely end up shot if you do.

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