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Minneapolis woman shoots stranger in back yard. Was it self-defense or murder?

Minneapolis woman shoots stranger in back yard. Was it self-defense or murder?
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Right now, the decision on whether to charge the woman rests in the hands of the Hennepin County Attorney, but so far police haven’t arrested or charged the 53-year old homeowner who says she was forced to defend her life after confronting a strange man on her property last week.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has identified the man killed as Martin Lee Johnson, 30 of Minneapolis. A search warrant reports Johnson broke into the woman’s detached garage about 8:30 p.m. FOX 9 is not publicly naming the homeowner.

She told detectives she first fired four warning shots into the air with a handgun, but when he advanced and appeared to reach into his waistband, she eventually shot him with a rifle.

“She is just a loving person. It’s unfortunate that had to happen,” Katherine Wiley, a neighbor, told FOX 9.

Wiley is a long-time friend of the homeowner, and runs a daycare in the MPD first precinct neighborhood that sits right on the backside of the Hiawatha light rail tracks.

“Police can’t do it all themselves. That’s why we look out for each other. Our eyes and ears is for the community. That’s what it’s about nowadays,” Wiley explained.

Being able to protect yourself is vital these days, and watching out for your neighbors and your community is always a good idea. Firing four warning shots into the air, on the other hand, is never a good idea, and for a couple of reasons.

First, there’s the law of gravity. What goes up must come down, and you have no idea where those rounds fired into the air are going to land.

But there’s also the law of the land to consider, and banging away at the sky in hopes of getting an intruder to run away could result in criminal charges, including reckless discharge of a firearm, even if you are ultimately forced to use your firearm in self-defense after your initial warning shots.

The best warning, generally speaking, is a verbal one; “Stop. I have a gun. I am prepared to use it to protect myself.” Pulling the trigger should be reserved only if you believe you’re in fear of being killed or suffering severe injury.

So, for now the investigation into the defensive gun use continues, though it sounds like the armed citizen is cooperating with police and there’s plenty of video of the incident that can hopefully provide officials with a clear picture of what happened that night.

According to the search warrant, investigators located both weapons, the handgun and rifle, in plain sight inside the home. They also requested access to the woman’s cell phones, as well as, Ring doorbell and home surveillance video recordings. The house appears to have several cameras and spotlights in the back of the home and garage where the shooting is said to have taken place.

“You have to do what we all have to do to protect ourselves and protect out home. If someone tries to come up and invade your space. You know, you have to call police. You have a weapon and ask someone to leave, you are going to do whatever,” said Wiley.

Well, you shouldn’t just do “whatever.” You should do whatever it takes for you to legally and lawfully protect yourself. Going beyond that, even if the intention is to prevent the loss of life by firing a warning shot, could actually expose you to all kinds of legal issues and criminal culpability. I really hope that’s not the case for this armed citizen, because given Democrats’ newfound desire to look tough on crime, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Hennepin County Attorney were to try to make an example of out anyone using a gun to protect their life.