The decision on whether to file charges in the fatal shooting of an alleged burglar by a Trotwood woman Monday will likely revolve around Ohio’s Castle Doctrine, which spells out the conditions under which someone can use lethal force to protect themselves inside their home or property.
The Trotwood case is still under investigation, but the Montgomery County Coroner’s office on Tuesday ruled that Azikiwe Presley, 29, died from a gunshot wound to the chest and that his death is a homicide.
Greg Flannagan, spokesman for Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck. Jr., said a three-prosecutor panel will review the shooting like any other homicide. On Dec. 17 the panel decided against filing charges in another case involving a woman who shot and killed an intruder.
In that case from September, DeBrandon Jurrod Dickerson, 22, had broken into the woman’s Richmond Avenue home in Dayton. It was the fifth time in 11 years the woman’s home had been broken into and the second time she shot an intruder.
In the Trotwood case, an Atlas Drive woman opened fire on three masked men — at least one of them armed with a semi-automatic weapon — who kicked in her back door and entered her home, allegedly to steal a safe. Surveillance cameras inside the home show three men in parkas, at least one of them brandishing a weapon.
The woman was home with two 14-year-old children at the time, approximately 5:50 a.m. The woman said one of the men hit her in the head with a gun while she was doing laundry. She fired on them when they attempted to drag the safe out and initially said she did not believe she hit anyone. But Presley’s body was found outside her home. The other two men escaped.
“If everything turns out to be as it is presented in the newspaper, I would be absolutely blown-away shocked that any charges would come from this (Trotwood shooting),” said Thomas Hagel, professor of law emeritus at the University of Dayton.
Ohio law allows the use of lethal force to defend against serious harm or death inside one’s home, attached porch, car or temporary residence, such as a tent. The law, informally known as the “Castle Doctrine,” was approved in 2008 and amended in 2011. It says there is no duty to retreat before using deadly force to defend against an intruder entering a residence.
“It’s an old, old common law doctrine,” Hagel said. “Out of any place in the world the place you have a right to feel secure is your own home.”
Similar self-defense laws are in place in most states, some of which also include a person’s business. Hagel said that generally under the Castle Doctrine the intruder does not have to be armed, but the victim needs to have a reasonable belief that the intruder is threatening serious harm or death. The assumption is that the threat is real if the intruder is committing a serious felony, he said.
The Castle Doctrine is different from Stand Your Ground Laws, which allow a person who is being threatened to use lethal force rather than to first retreat in place outside the home. Almost half the states have Stand Your Ground laws but Ohio does not.
Flannagan said self-defense has always been a defense. But prior to Ohio’s adoption of the Castle Doctrine a person was required to first retreat to safety if possible if an intruder entered the home. A person using lethal force in self-defense would need to “prove in court that he or she acted out of fear of serious physical injury or death,” according to a fact sheet published by the Ohio State Bar Association.
“Ohio’s ‘castle laws’ presume you have acted in self-defense or in defense of another when using deadly force against someone who has unlawfully entered your residence or vehicle,” according to the fact sheet. “If you were to be charged, the prosecution would have to prove that the intruder did not enter your house or vehicle with the intent of causing harm.”
The law also bars criminals from recovering civil damages for injuries caused by victims during commission of the crime, according to OSBA.
Five things to know about Ohio’s Castle Doctrine
- Allows the use of lethal force to defend against intruders in homes or vehicles rather than requiring a victim to first retreat if possible.
- Stems from English common law.
- Most states have it in some form.
- Differs from Stand Your Ground Laws, which Ohio does not have, and involve self-defense outside the home.
- Ohio’s law also bars criminals from recovering damages for injuries inflicted by victims.
Sources: Ohio State Bar Association and University of Dayton Law Professor Emeritus Tom Hagel