A Time to Kill?

When I think about the Houston area resident who shot and killed 2 men after they burglarized his neighbor's home, I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I want to praise him for having the courage to risk his life to stop the criminals from escaping. On the other hand, I wish he could have done so without killing them.

Most law-abiding people, me included, have an immediate visceral reaction to an incident like that. My first thought was, good, they got what they deserved. I suppose anyone who has ever been a victim of burglary would have some bitterness toward those who would dare invade the sanctity of a home.

Although it hasn't happened to me, I've seen the tragic results of home invasions and I know how devastating they can be. Burglars are generally thought of as passive criminals because their modus operandi is to break into unoccupied homes, steal valuables and leave without encountering anyone.

That may be the profile, but it's not the reality. Burglars are opportunists! Yes, they may plan to commit their larcenous deeds surreptitiously, but God help the unsuspecting resident who might be sleeping or sitting quietly in a home that is targeted for a break-in.

Keep in mind; anyone daring enough to force their way into a home, especially at night, is capable of anything. My experience with these nocturnal interlopers has made me conclude that they are among the lowest forms of life. Sleeping families have been abruptly awakened in the middle of the night by masked thugs with weapons. Women and children have been sexually assaulted and often murdered by these cretins as a desperate afterthought, merely to eliminate witnesses.

Then, there are burglars who, having filled their sacks with valuables, destroy the interior of the home in a vicious display of hostility toward anything resembling normalcy. They are notorious for slashing furniture, smashing lamps, vases, etc. and, as a final gesture of their contempt for propriety, defecating and urinating on rugs, drapes, sofas and other symbols of civilization. I've seen families reduced to hysterical screaming and sobbing when they arrived home to see the remains of what used to be their warm, pristine slice of paradise.

It's axiomatic that the bad guys get off on hurting good people. Yet, once in a while, justice prevails. My partner and I raced to a home in a quiet area of Queens because neighbors heard blood-curdling screams. When we arrived, we found a scarlet trail of liquid coming from a side door that was badly damaged, but closed. Inside, we found a Doberman Pinscher ready to attack again.

After summoning the owner and having him put the dog away, we discovered what looked like a slaughterhouse in the kitchen of the small ranch. Investigation revealed that an invader broke in and was surprised by the canine resident whose job it was to substitute for a burglar alarm. A deadly battle ensued, leaving blood spattered on walls, chairs, a refrigerator and the inside of the broken portal. The dog was still viciously ripping apart a sleeve that had been torn off the hapless interloper.

A quick check of the local emergency rooms turned up our severely lacerated fugitive. He looked like a patchwork quilt by the time they finished stitching his numerous wounds. One would think he'd have taken up another line of work. On the contrary, it was less than a year later that he graduated from burglary to murder when he came across an elderly woman living alone only a few blocks away from his life and death struggle with the Doberman.

Therefore, when we think about the guy who killed 2 men leaving the house next door, sacks filled with loot over their shoulders, we might ask ourselves if we would have behaved similarly. Certainly it would have been easier for the man to get a description and pass it on to the police when they arrived. However, burglaries are one of the least solved crimes on the books. Chances are, if those guys got away they would never be charged with that crime. Furthermore, they would have continued their despicable pursuits, perhaps leaving a long trail of victims in their wake.

We'll never know if that Houston area man saved future lives because he refused to sit by and watch his neighbors home being violated. Hence, we're left with a dilemma; should we be our brother's keeper, or should we merely protect our own home and turn a blind eye to the security of those around us? The recently passed Texas law known as the "Castle Doctrine" allows us to use whatever means necessary to protect our own home. Maybe it doesn't go far enough. We should all be concerned with the security in our neighborhoods because the lowlife, who's breaking in next door today, may be breaking into our homes tomorrow.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.
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