Tony Martin, again

60 Minutes (the Australian version) has done a story on the use of deadly force in self-defence.

Unfortunately it sufers from the same problem that many of these stories do. Tony Martin (who was convicted of murdering a burglar) gets to present his account of what happened which makes it look like he acted in self-defence.

TARA BROWN: What led to you firing the gun?


TARA BROWN: Were you under attack at that point?

TONY MARTIN: I thought I was, yes, or was about to be attacked. Because the people downstairs, as I went down the stairs, put a torch on me. You might think that's quite mild, but I can assure you at any point if somebody put a torch on you, it's quite alarming, to say the least.

Unfortunately, for Martin, it was obvious to the jury that his account was untrue. They visited the house and could see from where the shot had hit the wall that Martin could not possibly have fired from the stairs. It is this sort of reporting that makes people think that killing in self-defence is not lawful. I covered this matter in excruciating detail in this post. This additional comment by Martin gives an indication of why the jury decided that Martin had set out to kill a burglar:

I'll say this---without sounding callous---it wasn't unfortunate for them. It was unfortunate for me what happened because I ended up with a murder charge.

The other stories suffer from the same problem---we are just hearing one side of the story from people who obviously want to argue that acted in self-defence. Perhaps they did, but we cannot conclude that unless we hear both sides of the story.


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A striking feature of the appeal judgement to which you link is that Martin's lawyers tried to argue, at appeal, that he suffered from a paranoid psychiatric disorder which meant that he misperceived the danger posed by the burglars. This was rather undercut by the trial evidence showing that he had regularly advocated shooting burglars, threatened to do so, and so on.

seems to me like the burglars might have stopped trying their luck on Martin if he'd been allowed to shoot them. How are you supposed to reasonably deter the burglars from their chosen task? Evidently, from what the court papers indicate, the police were unable to stop Martin's residence from being repeatedly targeted.

I'm with Martin, If they keep coming back, and back, and back (even after one of them was convicted of burglarizing your residence no less! Some good that did) "shoot the bastards." In Texas, it's likely he'd have gone free. Where I live in Washington, I'd give it at least 50/50.

How else are you to deal with relentless terrorizing by thugs? Why are the thugs afforded the benefit of the doubt so much over the victims? My god, I'm glad I don't live in England.

What exactly would you consider to be reasonable force for protecting your home (property) from two men who have forced entry?

I am a gun owner and advocate of self defence, but I am with Tim on this: the bad guys were shot in the back, as I understand it.

Self defence is NOT being allowed to shoot burglars; it's using deadly force only to prevent harm to the innocent. If they were facing away, the idea that they were, at the time of being shot, intending harm is much weaker.

Ben, where did you get that one of them came back after being convicted of burglarized his residence?

I would suggest that he could have held them at gunpoint until the police came. If they threaten him he can lawfully shoot them.

It appears Ben's comments are more reflective of the US standard and possibly suggests that holding someone at gunpoint, in many instances, is easier said than done.

"An 89-year-old Rochester, New York, man shot and killed an intruder who broke into his home in an apparent burglary attempt. Alfred Thompson said he was watching television early one morning when he heard someone break in through a side door. He saw the man's silhouette in the darkened kitchen and fired a .22-caliber gun twice, hitting the man in the chest. Thompson said the two exchanged no words, but the intruder seemed wild, as if he were on drugs. Thompson added that he was fearful for his safety." (Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY, 09/18/02)

"A 79-year-old Minneapolis, Minnesota, man shot a home invader who had broken into the elderly man's residence late one night. Harvey Keefe, a World War II Marine Corps veteran, heard someone smash in his back door late one night. Keefe remained in his locked bedroom and picked up his .38-caliber revolver as he heard someone making his way through his house. When the intruder jiggled the doorknob to Keefe's bedroom, the veteran feared for his life and fired his gun. When the intruder appeared to backoff and sounds of leaving were heard, Keefe called 9-1-1 and waited for authorities to arrive. A suspect suffering from a gunshot wound was found six blocks from the scene and a trail of blood led back to the house. Keefe said he didn't regret firing the shot. "I know I've done the right thing," he said." (Star-Tribune, Minneapolis, MN, 08/22/02

"Raleigh, Tennessee, resident Jeffrey Rushing fired shots at two men who broke into his home, killing one. The intruders, one of whom was armed with a handgun, broke into the home about 1 a.m. Rushing confronted the pair armed with a .357-caliber firearm firing several shots and hitting one suspect who died at the scene. The dead man's accomplice escaped, but was later identified in a photo lineup by Rushing. Both suspects had extensive criminal records."
(Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN, 8/20/02)

By Charles Tupper (not verified) on 28 Sep 2004 #permalink

Euan Ferguson's piece in the Observer, written not long after the original verdict, seems to me one of the best pen-portraits not just of the case, but of the area.

As for ben's points: an East Anglian jury, presented with more evidence than any blog commenter has at his/her disposal, adjudged that Martin hadn't used reasonable force.

My god, I'm glad I don't live in England.

Ah, yes. And I'm glad you don't, too. You sound like the kind of person who'd open fire on trick-or-treaters.

Tim, I got that from the link you posted on the debate with Kevin entry. As stated in the "Court Service... - Judgement" document:

The third man, who had driven Barras and Fearon to the scene, but had not taken part in the burglary, also had an extensive record of dishonesty and indeed had a conviction for burglary of Bleak House itself.

So that's where I got it. He wasn't one of the two that was shot at, but he was one of the three that was involved (the driver).

The fact is that they were/are criminal scum. Why don't you feel relieved that there is one fewer of them to rob/assault and generally make other's lives miserable? Why is it up to the victims to show restraint to these criminal scum? I would open fire on violent scum (the criminals in the Martin case all had violent backgrounds, same source, Tim) who smash down my door and enter MY home without any regard for those inside. Don't forgive me if I think they deserve to be shot.

a.r. it seems we have a mutualy beneficial situation, given that you don't live here and I don't live there. Suits me fine. And, what makes you think I'd open fire on trick-or-treaters exactly? What exactly is the logical relationship between shooting at criminal scum who break down your door in the middle of the night intending to do you physical or material harm and open(ing) fire on trick-or-treaters. Or is it that after they smash down my door and realize they are facing down the barrel of certain violent death, that if they yell "TRICK OR TREAT," then they're trick-or-treaters and I'm a bad guy for blowing them away?

May god (if there is such a thing) please save me from making bogus claims about other people who's points I disagree with.

Yes, and to be honest Tim, I would not open fire on anyone simply for entering my home illegally if they were not a real threat to myself or my lovedones. That was just angry talk. Seriously though, I don't fault a man alone for taking action like that. How's he to know that those bastards aren't going to come back armed next time? How's he to know that they won't prey on him again? I'm sure that if my home had been broken into repeatedly, I'd reach my limit at some point and start repelling these bastards with anything I had.

The fact is that they were/are criminal scum. Why don't you feel relieved that there is one fewer of them to rob/assault and generally make other's lives miserable?

So essentially what you are saying is that you believe the crime of burglary should be punishable by a death sentence that is carried out by the victim. See, this is where people like you drift off into la-la land. You think if someone is trying to make off with your $99 DVD player, it gives you the right to execute that person. How can you consider that justice served?

I'm all for allowing people to defend themselves or their families. If your life or your family's life was in danger and you killed the attacker I'd be the first to say you had to do what you had to do. But to kill someone simply because they are invading your space and making off with your property is barbaric and totally unjustified.

I agree with you, Robert. It's just that if they happen to get shot in the process, I'm not going to miss them, as I said. Having someone invade your home seems to me (never happened yet) like something that would be totally frightening. How do you know a priori what the person's intentions are? They've just forced their way into your home, that in itself is enough for me to shoot, especially since I've got small children at home. Maybe these assholes would think twice if they were fair game at the point of break-in if someone is home.

I totally agree that if someone picks your pocket, grabs something of yours, steels your parked, empty car, defrauds you in some way, burglarizes your home while no one is home, and otherwise does not threaten anyone, nor hurts anyone, then they should not be shot nor physically hurt in any way. The point at which I disagree with you is when they forcefully enter YOUR / MY HOME while I and / or my lovedones are there.

I also think that if I manage to draw on one of these idiots after they break into my home and I FEEL like the situation is under control in that they have fled or are obeying my instructions, then I would never shoot. However, I think shooting at this point should be justified legally based only on how the victims feel at the time in regard to their safety. This gives the law abiding a serious advantage over the criminals, no? It may not be ideal, but it's a hell of a better detterent than "I called the police and they'll be here within the next 15 minutes!"

It's typically not as if these are nice people. Many are violent offenders and most make a "living," if you can call it that, as criminals. Their whole life is about preying on others. How can you be so concerned about them?

The problem is, as Ben asserts, how do you provide an objective measure for those who honestly but unreasonably believe that they must resort to force to protect their own life? If the accused honestly believes that his or her life is in danger and that resort to deadly force is necessary, but those beliefs are not considered reasonable to the ordinary person, the defence is barred. This, as Ben suggests, unfairly denies protection to those accused who honestly but unreasonably believe that they must resort to force to protect their own life. It matters little if another society considers it 'barbaric or unjustified', it only matters if those beliefs (fear for safety) are considered reasonable to the 'ordinary' person. So it appears the Canucks, Brits and Aussies here consider the force level unreasonable yet the Yankees wouldn't.

By Charles Tupper (not verified) on 28 Sep 2004 #permalink

"objective measure" = "would a reasonable person believe X"; very good. But the question isn't "is fear for safety reasonable?", but rather, "do we honestly believe the defendant felt fear for his/family's safety?". If a burglar breaks into my home, steals my stamp collection (or whatever), opens the door and is fleeing my property, and I suddenly realise I've been carrying a gun all along, I can't then shoot him in the back... even if he is criminal scum with an inordinate fondness for stamps. This is because there is no way in hell I could possibly have been defending myself from the burglar.

Who is a "reasonable person"? Who gets to decide whether the defendant's claim that they honestly believed it was self-defence is valid? Well, see, we get twelve of them, and they're called a jury. In each of the cases Tim has produced --- where murderers put up bullshit "self defence" claims --- twelve people have looked into it, and called "shenanigans" on the defendant.

The fact is that they were/are criminal scum. Why don't you feel relieved that there is one fewer of them to rob/assault and generally make other's lives miserable?

Tony Martin was a paranoiac (source: his lawyers) who had threatened to shoot his own brother (source: press reports) and had had his shotgun licence removed for that reason (source: the police). Why aren't you even slightly relieved that such a person was taken out of circulation?

I am. Color me doubly relieved.

One wonders whether 'ben' would be allowed a shotgun licence in the UK, for the same reasons that Tony Martin lost his. He appears to be just waiting for the chance to exercise his 'rights'.

Cool your jets, a.r.
Martin was was an unbalanced person who threatened people. ben just said that he would shoot someone who broke into his house and threatened him.

How do you know a priori what the person's intentions are?

In the above case it's clear that the person went downstairs and confronted the burgler. He could have easily remained upstairs and confronted the burgler by simply yelling out that he had a gun and knew how to use it. Only if the burgler had then moved to come upstairs would there have been justification for shooting him.

Thanks Tim.

You think if someone is trying to make off with your $99 DVD player, it gives you the right to execute that person.

You'll find that most law-abiding Americans are not willing to shoot someone over a possession, but nevertheless someone who breaks into a home to steal a DVD player has decided for himself that his life is only worth $99, not the resident who shoots him.

If someone breaks into your home, and you think he's a threat, then self-defence is a valid claim. I don't quite agree with Robert; if you confront him, and things get out of hand, well, too bad, but not your fault. There should perhaps be a little leeway to allow for the situation being so emotionally charged, and that, well, the guy's a burglar who's entered your home illegally, and taking his own damn risks (as Sarah said, though I suspect she disagrees with me on everything else...).

But let's face it. Shooting someone in the back, as they're running away (which seems to me the overwhelming majority of the right-wingnuts' "self-defence ignored in Britain!" cases), is not self-defence. It is disingenuous for gun fans to assert otherwise, and devalues real cases where deadly force was (thought to be) necessary.

Robert M., as Sarah pointed out, *you* are not saying that a life is worth $99--the burglar is. What is taken from the victim of a crime and what the criminal gains are not of equal value. You lose your $99 dvd player, your sense of security in your own house, your ability to sleep soundly for a *long* time, and often your peace of mind around strangers. The burglar gets the $99 dvd player (which he will only be able to fence for a fraction of the value) and doesn't care that you have lost all the rest. Moreover, a burglar who makes a "hot" break-in (meaning the resident is at home--and it's pretty easy to figure out if someone is home or not so hot break-ins are not usually accidents) is probably more desperate and more willing to accept the risk of a confrontation. I think this is in line with Charles T.'s point about honest belief vs. objectively reasonable belief.

It wouldn't surprise me that he made statements about wanting to shoot burglars, since his house had already been broken into. I wouldn't necessarily defend his actions without access to all of the evidence, but a statement in the "Law of Self-Defense" section of the Judgment does make me wonder what kind of standard he was held up to. ("It is for this reason that it was for the jury, as the representative of the public, to decide the amount of force which it would be reasonable and the amount of force which it would be unreasonable to use in the circumstances in which they found that Mr Martin believed himself to be in.")

Planter, the jury convicted him of murder -- that means that they decided he wasn't acting in self-defence at all. And wanting to shoot burglars (as opposed to being prepared to shoot one to defend yourself) smacks of revenge, which is not a lawful basis for shooting someone.

Tim, that's why I stated my concern about the legal standard he was held to. I pointed to his statements about wanting to shoot burglars in the context of his previous victimization, not to defend it as justifiable revenge, but as an indication that he had not yet recovered emotionally from the previous break-in. (Which, I believe, was one of the things the appeals court considered in reducing his sentence.) If he was emotionally distraught, I am concerned that the jury did not give that sufficient weight when deciding what is "reasonable." As I said, I don't have a full record in front of me, so these are more abstract concerns at this point than a "Free Tony Martin" post. To me the interesting question this case and the others you listed in your table of self-defense-allegers is this: in my own house, how much of an "even playing field" am I expected to give an intruder? Why should I have to ascertain before I shoot him whether he just wants my stereo or is planning to assault my girlfriend, particularly since any attempt to scare him just makes it easier to figure out where I am and how to attack me? Do I have to wait for him to face me so that I can ascertain whether he is armed or not? Remember, this is limited to being in my own house, and not chasing him away through my front yard or attacking someone who is already subdued.

Fuck the buglars, they all deserve what they get. Your home is your castle. Shoot first, ask questions later. Lambert is a namby pamby sandle wearing tosser, go the Liberal Party, thank god most Aussies are not pussies.
BTW, can't wait for MBH98 to be finally shown to be the sham it is.

By Peter Bickle (not verified) on 09 Oct 2004 #permalink