Published December 04, 2013
A Georgia sheriff's department is still deciding whether to take legal action against a man who shot and killed a 72-year-old Alzheimer's patient whom he thought was a prowler.
The Nov. 27 death of Ron Westbrook has re-ignited the debate over "Stand Your Ground" laws.
Investigators said that Westbrook had walked nearly three miles in sub-freezing temperatures and was lost and confused when he knocked on the door of home of Joe Hendrix's fiancé just before 4 a.m. Hendrix was asleep in the house when Westbrook came calling, but went outside to confront whom he thought was an intruder.
"[Hendrix] ordered him to raise his hands, yelled, 'Who are you? What are you doing here?'" Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson told MyFoxAtlanta.com.
Hendrix told investigators that the shadowy figure didn't speak and wouldn't stop walking towards him, so he shot him four times.
Authorities said that Westbrook's case of Alzheimer's was so advanced that at times he could barely speak. He was wearing a light jacket on the night he was shot.
In the wake of Westbrook's death, the question has become whether Hendrix will face charges. So far in the investigation, authorities have neither made an arrest nor pressed any charges.
"By him going outside his home, he didn't break any laws," Wilson said. "He chose to go out. Me personally, I wish he'd have stayed inside."
Attorney Lance LoRusso told MyFoxAtlanta that Hendrix was in the right to go outside and confront Westbrook under Georgia's "Stand Your Ground" law. A similar law in Florida gained national attention during the trial of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman for second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, though the law was not a part of Zimmerman's defense strategy.
"You don't have a duty to retreat if, number one, you're in a lawful activity at the time," said LoRusso. "And number two, you're in a place where you have a lawful right to be."
However, LoRusso said a different set of laws spelled out whether he was in the right to use deadly force. The criteria include, "If you're protecting yourself, you're protecting a third person from an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death, or you're protecting someone from a forcible felony being committed."
LoRusso believes a grand jury will ultimately decide whether to charge Hendrix with a crime in relation to the shooting.
"We're going to have people looking at things like proximity between [Hendrix] and the person who was shot," he said. "You're going to have [to decide] things like what actions were taken, what words were used."
The decision whether to proceed will be taken by the county's District Attorney after a meeting with the sheriff's office.