Prosecutors deciding whether to charge a California man who says he fatally shot a violent burglar in the back in an alley as she fled his home face a difficult decision because the case falls in a gray area involving self-defense, a legal expert said Friday.
Long Beach homeowner Tom Greer, 80, told a TV station he began firing after his collarbone was broken during an assault by the woman and a man that Greer discovered in his home.
Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell says the homeowner shot at 28-year-old Andrea Miller in an alley.
Greer said he fired at the burglars inside and outside his home, even though the female burglar told him not to shoot because she was pregnant.
"The lady didn't run as fast as the man, so I shot her in the back twice," Greer told KNBC-TV outside his house. "She's dead ... but he got away."
An autopsy Friday determined that Miller was not pregnant, Los Angeles County coroner's spokesman Ed Winter said.
Gus Adams, 26, her suspected accomplice, was later booked on suspicion of residential burglary and murder and was being held on bail of just over $1 million. The murder charge is possible because Adams is accused of participating in a felony that led to a death, McDonnell said.
The case was referred on Friday to prosecutors who will have to decide whether to charge Adams and Greer. A decision might not come until Monday.
Under California law, homeowners have a right to protect themselves with deadly force inside their homes and in the immediate vicinity — such as a patio — if they feel they are in imminent danger of great bodily injury or death, said Lawrence Rosenthal, a former federal prosecutor who teaches law at Chapman University.
But this case enters a gray area because Greer, by his own account, chased the burglars and fired at them outside his home as they were fleeing, Rosenthal said.
Prosecutors will have to decide if the evidence shows the immediate threat had subsided by the time Greer fired again, or if he still could reasonably fear for his life.
"As a technical matter, this would be a homicide, possibly second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter, but that doesn't mean that you should charge everything that's technically an offense," Rosenthal said.
"The problem here is that all this happens very fast and his legal right to use force probably ended just a few seconds before he did use deadly force. So the question is should you charge somebody on the basis of what really was a series of split-second decisions when he's just been robbed and physically assaulted?"
Miller and Adams, who had histories of similar crimes, were unarmed, McDonnell said.
Greer had been burglarized three times before and believed the same suspects were responsible.
He returned home shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday to find the pair in his home. Police said both suspects attacked him, hitting him with their fists and ultimately body-slamming him to the floor and breaking his collarbone, McDonnell said. Miller continued to hit him, McDonnell said, while Adams went to a safe and tried to pry it open.
When Miller left him to also work on the safe, Greer was able to get to another room where he grabbed a gun and returned to open fire on the suspects, police said.
They fled through the garage and into an alley, and Greer chased them, firing again, McDonnell said.
McDonnell would not say whether Miller was shot in the back as Greer said. He also declined to say how many shots were fired and whether either of the suspects was hit inside the house before fleeing.
No phone listing was available for Greer and he could not be reached for comment by The Associated Press.