Man Who Shot Prowler Won’t be Charged

Posted March 14, 2012 in Criminal Law by Courtney Sherwood

Photo by Steven Straiton

Prosecutors in Washington state have decided not to charge a homeowner who shot and killed a suspected prowler, even though the intruder may have been drunk and confused, not malicious, when he stumbled onto the rural farm where he died.

Barry Parnell had been drinking and gambling for at least five or six hours in the small Washington town of La Center, home to a number of cardroom casinos, before he apparently got lost and staggered onto the 11.5 acre farm where he was shot, according to a report by Clark County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott Jackson. But Leland Larson, whose farm is a 10 minute walk from the casinos, had no idea what was happening when his wife screamed at a man in dark hooded clothes outside the sliding glass entry to their bedroom.

Larson told police that he grabbed a shotgun and, when he saw Parnell heading away from the house, yelled for the intruder to stop and drop to the ground. Parnell did not respond until Larson fired a warning shot. At that point, Parnell turned around, walked toward Larson, and leaned on to the barrel of the shotgun.

This extra pressure on the gun, when he already had a finger on its trigger, caused the weapon to fire, Larson told police. Though Washington law says it’s only OK to shoot prowlers once they enter a residence, not just for trespassing on a lawn, the state does allow use of force to detain them.  Prosecutor Jackson decided that the evidence was not strong enough to charge Larson with manslaughter, which requires proof of recklessness or criminal negligence.

That leaves few options for Parnell’s friends and family. Though several friends expressed anger at his shooter, it’s not clear if they want to hold Larson accountable for Parnell’s death. 

A civil suit may be one course of action.

Justin Demerath

Whereas a criminal prosecution requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a civil suit’s burden of proof is lower, relying on a preponderance of evidence instead, said Justin Demerath, attorney with O’Hanlon, McCollom & Demerath, a personal injury firm in Austin, Texas. The best a family is likely to get out of a civil suit victory is cash compensation, however, and if a potential defendant has limited assets it will be hard to find an attorney willing to take the case.

Read more about how to mount a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

“Not everybody has the financial means to be able to compensate a victim if a judgment is rendered against them,” Demerath said. “While you can civilly prosecute someone all day long, being able to collect that money or that judgment is not always possible. You’ve got to have somebody with wealth or insurance before you collect damages.”

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