Pittsburgh Murder Conviction Shows Why Being Afraid Doesn't Make It Self-Defense

(Published under creative commons)

When you talk about self-defense shooting, the phrase “I was in fear of my life” gets thrown around a lot. Some will even try and argue that you can use that argument to justify almost any shooting, that as long as you can say you were scared then a jury will let you off the hook.


Which, of course, is complete and total bovine excrement.

Don’t believe me? Tell it to this guy.

A ride-share van passenger convicted of murder in the shooting death of a man outside a Pittsburgh club has been sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison.

Thirty-eight-year-old Derek Vasos testified that he was “scared to death” when he shot 28-year-old Donald Ketter Jr. early on Feb. 5 outside the Carrick Literary Club. He said Ketter appeared to be in a rage and seemed to have something in his hands. At Thursday’s sentencing, the judge said that Ketter posed no danger.

If he was “scared to death,” why was he convicted?

Well, the story is sparse, but it appears that the fear was all in Vasos’s head.

But Judge Cashman discounted those claims.

“There was no danger you were in. You weren’t going to suffer serious bodily injury or death,” the judge said.

At trial, testimony showed that Vasos had gotten into an Uber after leaving the after-hours Carrick Lit Club early in the morning of Feb. 5.

As the Uber was pulling away on Copperfield Avenue, its path was blocked by Mr. Ketter, who was standing in the middle of the street blocking traffic.

Vasos, who was sitting in the Uber’s front, passenger seat, honked the car’s horn, but Mr. Ketter didn’t move.

Vasos testified that Mr. Ketter appeared to be in a rage, took off his belt and wrapped it around his hand in what he interpreted as a threat. As Mr. Ketter approached Vasos’ window, Vasos said he pulled out his legally possessed gun and fired once out of fear. He then fled in the Uber, eventually turning himself in hours later.


The fact that Vasos left the scene probably didn’t help his case.

However, the real deciding factor was probably the fact that, as things stood, the worst he was going to get was a butt whooping. In almost no state are you justified in using lethal force to stop a butt whooping.

Vasos may well have been terrified. I’m not going to dispute that.

However, for lethal force to be justified, it needs to pass the reasonable man test. Would a reasonable man believe there is a threat of serious bodily harm or even death. While I don’t want to get in a scrap with an enraged guy who has wrapped his fist in a belt, that doesn’t justify an armed response in and of itself.

At least, that’s what the jury found.

This is an important thing to keep in mind when you’re talking about an armed response. You need to understand what may or may not be considered justification for lethal force. Just saying you’re scared isn’t enough, nor should it be.


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