Wednesday, December 4, 2013

72-Year-Old Alzheimer's Patient Latest Victim of "Stand Your Ground"

This case really makes me mad. A 72-year-old man named Ronald Westbrook in Georgia -- who happens to have Alzheimer's disease and has been diagnosed with dementia for the past two years -- got confused last week and began walking his two dogs in the middle of the night. He was wandering for about four hours in 20 degree weather wearing a light jacket. About three miles from his home, he saw one house that still had its lights one. He went to that house and woke up the residents when he tried opening the locked door and ringing the doorbell. The woman called 911 and was speaking with a 911 dispatcher for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, her fiancé decided to get out his handgun and went outside to confront the confused man. 34-year-old Joe Hendrix claimed that he couldn't really see the elderly man due to the poor lighting. He gave verbal commands to Westbrook to stop. The confused man continued wandering. So Hendrix fired his gun four times. One of those bullets hit Westbrook in the chest and killed him. One of his dogs covered the dying man protectively with his body and had to be physically removed by animal control.

No charges have been filed against Hendrix -- largely because Georgia has a fairly strict "Stand Your Ground" law. The local sheriff has publicly stated that Hendrix should have stayed inside his house, but that it appears he was within his legal rights. The local DA is still mulling over legal options.

But it appears that it is legal to fatally shoot a 72-year-old Alzheimer's patient in Georgia if he has the misfortune of wandering onto your property.

There's another legal option in these cases: The legal option to stay inside, call for help, and discharge your weapon if/when the other man actually breaks into your home.

There's yet another legal option: The gun-toting responsibility to make sure that you can see what you are firing at. What if that had been a police officer that he had blindly fired into the dark at?

I've already seen people online defending Hendrix's decision to fatally shoot this elderly man. What happened to assessing risk before rushing into a potentially dangerous situation? What happened to assessing risk before firing blindly at another human being? What happened to empathy?

Of course, the reverse is also true. I keep searching for a public reaction from Joe Hendrix. In the cold light of day, does he regret this decision? What goes through the mind of a man who killed any other man -- much less a senile elderly man?

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