As a juror, what verdict would you render?

The recent headline story about the Oklahoma City pharmacy worker who shot and killed one of the gun-toting robbers who charged into the store demanding money reminded me of a watershed movie from 1974.

"Death Wish" starred Charles Bronson as a successful, mild-mannered architect and bleeding heart liberal living in New York City in an expensive Upper East Side apartment. Paul Kersey (Bronson), having no experience with street violence associated with large urban areas, was nevertheless filled with compassion for those he referred to as the "underprivileged." That all changed during the first 15 minutes of the movie after he was notified that his wife had been murdered and his daughter raped by street thugs.

The former liberal gradually transformed into a hardhearted avenger, consumed with the righteousness of someone who had been rudely awakened and forced to recognize the savagery surrounding the civilization that, hitherto, had made him feel secure. Kersey gets physically ill the first time he fights back against a mugger on a dark street. However, he soon acclimates himself to his new role as a crusader for the justice that was lacking in the system.

Roaming the dark streets and parks, he confronts and kills without warning every time he sees a monstrous crime in progress. Even after he shoots a rapist, mugger or other creature using a weapon to assault the innocent, he has no compunction about finishing the job by repeatedly firing rounds into the twitching body.

The pharmacy worker, Jerome Ersland, must have felt similarly when he fired 5 more shots into the body of the gunman who had been felled, but not killed, by the first shot. Although arrested and charged with first-degree murder, Ersland was released after a supporter put up the bond money for his $100,000 bail. The trial jury will have to decide if Ersland acted under extreme emotional stress when he ended the life of the 16 year-old, whose 14 year-old accomplice fled the store when the shooting started. The drugstore's video camera shows Ersland racing out of the store in pursuit of the fleeing gunman and returning seconds later to finish the job on the supine figure.

There's no way of knowing for sure what would have happened if the employee didn't have a gun to defend himself and other store employees. Yet, when people are desperate enough to put a gun in your face, they're probably violent enough to use it. The fact that the 14 year-old was holding the gun instead of his older accomplice indicates to me that they knew if they were caught, the younger one would be tried as a juvenile. That much knowledge of the law tells me that this wasn't the first time they engaged in felonious behavior.

The question we should be asking now is how much sympathy should we have for a predator who was killed while trying to harm innocent people. Who's the victim here? The employee was merely working for a living when the robbers burst in barking orders at the point of a gun. I think people are getting tired of being afraid of the criminals that seem to have no fear of the police or the courts. Ironically, the video, which is intended for security of the store, wouldn't have been able to identify the masked gunmen, even if they had murdered the occupants. Instead, it is the evidence against the man who foiled what would have certainly been a robbery, if not a multiple murder.

Is it fair to call the man a vigilante? That's the name applied to Kersey in the movie 35 years ago. Nevertheless, while the police were investigating the slayings of the city's sewer-dwellers, crime was plummeting and the public, inspired by the anonymous law-enforcer, was beginning to fight back. Incidentally, the nationwide public showed their affirmation at the box office too, making the movie a blockbuster that inspired 4 sequels.

The theme may have also inspired a man named Bernard Goetz, who, some years later, became known as the "Subway Vigilante" in New York because he shot 4 muggers who tried to rob him on a train. All were seriously wounded and one was permanently crippled. Goetz, who had been injured in a violent mugging a few years earlier in which his assailant was arrested, but went unpunished, was charged with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment and possession of an unlicensed firearm. But public opinion, motivated by the high crime rate, was on his side. A Manhattan jury found him not guilty of all charges except an illegal firearms possession count, for which he served 8 months of a one year sentence.

I wonder how many mugging victims were on that jury. 
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