It is unclear if a Georgia man will face charges after police say he fatally shot an elderly man suffering from Alzheimer's after the man wandered into his backyard and rang his doorbell at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, The Times Free Press reported.
Sheriff's officials say Ronald Westbrook, 72, had walked about three miles in sub-freezing temperatures with his two dogs, then knocked on 34-year-old Joe Hendrix's door. They say Hendrix, who is "saddened and heartbroken," walked outside the home he rented in the Chickamauga, a neighborhood near the Tennessee border, and confronted Westbrook. He gave several verbal commands but Westbook, who was slow to talk, continued to walk toward him, the paper reported.
Hendrix, fearing for his safety, fired his handgun four times at the man, killing him with a bullet to the chest, police said. Westbrook was holding letters mailed to a home he used to live in in the neighborhood and was wearing a light jacket and straw hat despite freezing temperatures.
Hendrix’s fiancée, was on the phone with 911 and the shooting occurred during the approximately 10-minute wait for deputies to arrive, the report said.
Walker County Coroner W. Dewayne Wilson said Friday in a statement to The Associated Press that the autopsy is scheduled for Saturday at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab in Atlanta.
Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson has said he had no doubts that Hendrix felt threatened during the encounter. No charges have been filed and they are cooperating, but The Free Press reported that Wilson said a circuit district attorney may bring charges after reviewing the evidence. Wilson said the Georgia "stand-your-ground" law may apply to this case, the report said.
"In my personal opinion, I believe that he should have stayed inside the house," he said. "Did he violate any laws by exiting the house? No."
Georgia's self-defense law generally allows a person to use force when they have reason to believe they are under a physical threat. The law does not necessarily require a person to retreat from a perceived threat even if backing down is possible. That's a distinction from traditional self-defense laws that gave homeowners wide latitude to defend themselves inside their residences, while typically requiring someone in any other location to seek ways to back down without resorting to violent action.
"Mr. Hendrix is clearly saddened and heartbroken," the sheriff said. "Mr. Hendrix has to live with his actions for the rest of his life."
Wilson said a sheriff's deputy had stopped Westbrook earlier in the night standing at a mailbox on nearby Marble Top Road, where Westbrook once lived. Westbrook told the deputy he was getting his mail.
The Associated Press contributed to this report