December 4, 2013

"I understand the man who shot him is real upset, and I think he should be... He shot an innocent man."

"He should have stayed in the house like a normal person would."

Wandering 72-year-old man with Alzheimer’s gets shot to death. At the top of the NYT article the scene is described almost poetically:

No one is sure how, in the frigid hours before dawn last Wednesday in this small north Georgia community near the Tennessee border, Mr. Westbrook ended up nearly three miles from home with a handful of other people’s mail, jiggling Joe Hendrix’s doorknob.

Mr. Hendrix, 34, stepped onto his porch with a Glock pistol in his hand and his fiancée inside on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. He fired four shots. One hit Mr. Westbrook in the chest.

On a cold and damp day Tuesday, Mrs. Westbrook buried her husband of 51 years...
Further down, there are more details about how it looked from Hendrix's point of view. It was "Just before 4 a.m." and:
At least twice, Mr. Westbrook climbed onto the small porch, tried to open the door and rang the doorbell....

“When you listen to the 911 calls, it’s evident to me that there was fear displayed at least by the female who lived there,” [the sheriff] said.
Note the plural: "calls."
As Mr. Westbrook came around a corner of the house, Mr. Hendrix took his gun and repeatedly called for him to identify himself, he told the police. Then he fired the shots. Mr. Hendrix told investigators that Mr. Westbrook continued to approach him, so he fired the shot into his chest.
So it wasn't just a man jiggling the doorknob at a strange hour and then waiting for an answer only to be met by a man who steps right out and fires 4 shots. There was activity around the house and beyond the porch area, in the middle of the night. The couple inside were scared and enough time passed to make more than one call to the police. Hendrix went outside to investigate, tried to interact with the intruder, and only shot when the man kept approaching.
“When we sat down and told him the age of the victim and the diagnosis, he broke down and became emotional,” Sheriff Wilson said.
Most of the article is about whether to prosecute Hendrix (and the usual material about Stand Your Ground law). Commenters over there are quick to blame guns, but I think homeowners have a right to defend themselves against someone trying to break into their house at night. Hendrix tried to talk to the man and couldn't see that he was old and didn't know that his mind had deteriorated.

Mrs. Westbrook says she's not sure whether Hendrix should be charged. The article begins with the line "Deanne Westbrook had tried everything to keep her husband, Ronald, in the house." No one wants to say anything unkind to a woman who lost her husband and who tried to treat him well, but if we're going to ask whether Hendrix was reasonable, shouldn't we also ask if Mrs. Westbrook was reasonable?

What more could she have done? Didn't she know that her husband went out and behaved in a way that would scare people at night and that he would not be able to explain himself when people asked him what he was doing or to stop when he was told he'd better stop? He needed supervision and constraint.

"He should have stayed in the house like a normal person would." That was the wife's quote. I see ambiguity in it now.

By the way, you don't need to look far in the NYT archive to find articles about people with Alzheimer's where the suggestion is that others ought to show them the exit from this life. They're all jiggling at the doorknob.

69 comments:

Matthew Sablan said...

"Mr. Hendrix, a veteran of the Iraq war who last year served as the spokesman for a Republican candidate for Congress from Tennessee, Scottie Mayfield, did not return calls seeking an interview."

-- Smart man. No good will come of him talking to the press.

mccullough said...

This is called fate. Would this story be in the NY Times if the homeowner killed the apparent home invader with a baseball bat?

Quasimodo said...

The Old Guy was not inside the house, nor was he putting the home owner in fear of his life by brandishing a weapon or charging the home owner. Offset these facts with the reasonable fear the homeowner and occupant felt. I say they will charge him with something.

Matthew Sablan said...

On the legal issue, I'd need to know more. How long had they waited for police? What was the crime like? Was the victim a tiny, obviously elderly/frail man?

There're too many details missing to get a good read on anything to be 100 percent certain.

Matthew Sablan said...

[Though, the comments at the NYT concern me. A lot of the comments don't even seem to think that there's a valid reason people might be suspicious of strangers on their property at night trying to open the door.]

prairie wind said...

I wasn't there so I don't know what I would have done. I hope I would have gone back inside and let the guy fiddle with the door until the cops finally wandered onto the scene.

...like a normal person...
That's terribly sad. He wasn't a normal person.

David said...

Stories of successful home invasions in small Georgia towns which result in financial loss, beatings or death for the residents do not get reported in the New York Times.

SJ said...

As at least one other blogger said, the lighted sign reading lost Alzheimer's patient must have had its battery burn out.

Dark night, police are taking more than 20 minutes to arrive, unknown threat from stranger wandering around property...

We don't know what the situation looked like before the shot. (We do know that the shooter probably didn't have a flashlight in his hand when he looked outside...which I think he should have.)

What was the right thing to do? Even though a man died un-necessarily, was a crime committed?

It's a hard question to answer.

MadisonMan said...

"He should have stayed in the house like a normal person would."

But then, he wasn't normal.

Oh. You weren't talking about your husband?

I wonder how this would have played out if the fiancee hadn't been there in the house.

Moose said...

So if this impaired individual had stepped out into traffic and was run down, would it warrant this level of attention - no matter how tragic?
Me smells an agenda. Duh - its the NY Times.

The Drill SGT said...

I'd note that the shooter fired 4 times. It appears that the first three may have been 'warning shots' because the article indicates that when the victim continued toward the shooter, he fired once more into his chest.

Illuninati said...

Althouse said:
"By the way, you don't need to look far in the NYT archive to find articles about people with Alzheimer's where the suggestion is that others ought to show them the exit from this life. They're all jiggling at the doorknob."

As sad as it is that Mr. Westbrook died, he was in the end stages of a terminal disease which would have ended his life. The broader question is how would we feel if Mr. Westbrook was the victim of a traffic accident and was suffering from post concussion confusion and was shot while he was seeking help? What if he had schizophrenia? If the homeowner had stayed in his house and waited for the police things would have turned out much better.



AReasonableMan said...

Was he wearing a hoodie?

hombre said...

Based on the story, it sounds like manslaughter, not an argument for gun control.

I assume if a knife had been used, the commenters at the NYT wouldn't be calling for knife control - but I'm not sure.

AReasonableMan said...

Had he been drinking perple skank?

Enquiring minds want to know.

madAsHell said...

Now why does the article mention Trayvon Martin? What is the need for the "white on white" comment?...or any racial declaration?

The article doesn't clearly convey the facts. The facts might cloud the agenda.

traditionalguy said...

150 years ago another man was shot there by locals for wandering around.

He was Hans Christian Heg wandering around with his Wisconsin 15th Regiment at Chickamauga.

ALP said...

My partner and I are both gun owners. We have discussions about how we would handle a break in. One thing we do agree on: we would not shoot until anybody crosses the threshold of the house - and gains entry. We plan to retreat to a specific room and defend from there. I don't see how wandering in the dark around your house puts one in a good strategic position - but maybe some of the posters with military/police can correct me on that. The homeowner knows the layout of the house and has the advantage inside - why even go outside if you are in fear - unless the female egged him on to act stupidly heroic.

Had this homeowner retreated and waited, would this man have had the strength and ability to actually break IN?

Michael K said...

New York Times readers will have a better feel for self defense once the new Mayor has a chance to dismantle the city police presence.

Freder Frederson said...

Based on the story, it sounds like manslaughter, not an argument for gun control.

Actually it is an argument for gun control. It is much too easy to improperly assess a threat when you have a gun in your hand. If he went out and confronted the guy with a knife or baseball bat he probably would have realized his mistake before he killed the old man. And I imagine the gun in his hand is what gave him the courage to go outside rather than wait for the police.

Matthew Sablan said...

On the other hand, had the intruder been an intruder, going out there with not a gun may have gotten him killed.

It's Schroedinger's gun problem. Only in hindsight do we realize that him taking a gun was the wrong choice. We can't argue like that; it just isn't a rational place to use as a discussion point.

Big Mike said...

He should have stayed in the house like a normal person.

The editors at the Times don't have to worry about intruders breaking into their homes late at night with the police twenty minutes or a half hour away. The guy wouldn't get past the doorman at their fancy apartment building and the cops would be there within minutes. Put a "normal" Times writer or editor in the same situation -- relatively isolated house far from police support and see what they'd really do instead of what they think they'd do with hindsight as a guide.

Robert Cook said...

Big Mike,

Do you think the remark was made by a NYTimes reporter or editor?

bbkingfish said...

Obviously, all Americans with late-stage Altzheimer's should be required to carry a loaded firearm at all times. If Mr. Westbrook had a gun, he might be alive today. As Wayne LaPierre likes to say, "The only thing that stops a spooked homeowner with a gun, is a wandering, senile, demented guy with a gun."

TosaGuy said...

ALP,

You are correct in your assessment. You are better off in a defensive position inside if someone is trying to break into your house, especially if you know where that person is. You are also correct in establishing a shoot/don't shoot line. Do remember that once inside the door threshold, an attacker can close on you quickly and any warnings should be given while he is trying to break in, not after.

TosaGuy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William said...

I don't think the homeowner acted with exemplary caution and discretion, but that's not a crime. I don't think the wife of the Alzheimer's patient acted with exemplary care and vigilance, but that's not a crime. There's sound and fury here but mostly it signifies bad luck.

gadfly said...

While considering legal remedies in this death, perhaps the DA should indict Deanna Westbrook for her failure to protect as her husband's guardian or maybe the entire Georgia DHS Division of Aging can be held responsible for this neglect.

Why couldn't the Deputy Sheriff have done his job and transported Mr. Westbrook to safety at 2:30 AM? It is really quite easy to determine Alzheimer's impairment.

But in the end, the idiot with the glock had the upper hand and firing four bullets into an unarmed 72-year-old man is ridiculously stupid behavior.

Pamela said...

Don't pick on the widow. I have a nephew who is autistic -- does the same thing. But my sibling can't even put dead bolts on his door, or restrain him in any way. WHY? State laws. In the nursing home where our 105 year old relative lives, who falls out of her bed and her chair. NO RESTRAINTS. She can't have bed rails because it is considered restraints. Can't be buckled into her wheelchair. Restraints. So, instead you have to put alarms on windows and doors. Alarms on the seats of wheelchairs. Lower beds to the floor so if they fall out they won't break too many bones. The wife of the Alzhimers victim was probably exhausted.

hombre said...

Freder wrote: Actually it is an argument for gun control. It is much too easy to improperly assess a threat when you have a gun in your hand...."

You are speaking from personal experience, I presume.

OTOH, we don't know what happened in this case, but normally a person would be expected to feel less threatened and therefore more likely to assess such a situation correctly when he has a gun in his hand.

I admit this is not lefty logic. It's just logic.

AReasonableMan said...

William said...
I don't think the homeowner acted with exemplary caution and discretion, but that's not a crime. There's sound and fury here but mostly it signifies bad luck.


Mistakes were made.

Freder Frederson said...

OTOH, we don't know what happened in this case

We know that a man killed an unarmed 71 year old with Alzheimer's. It is obvious that the shooter improperly assessed the situation. If that isn't obvious to you, then the reaction of Westbrook (he "broke down and became emotional") after discovering who he shot, should clue you into the fact that even the shooter realized he had made a mistake.

Ann Althouse said...

Can anyone tell me how many lives are saved by the break ins that never occur because the would-be intruders are afraid the person inside might defend himself with a gun?

Perhaps for ever sad tale like this one, there are 10 lives saved because break-ins are deterred as those hearing about them think: breaking into a house at night is a dangerous thing to do.

Please let me know these numbers. I'm very interested!

AReasonableMan said...

Ann Althouse said...
Can anyone tell me how many lives are saved by the break ins that never occur because the would-be intruders are afraid the person inside might defend himself with a gun?


Less than zero because when armed homeowners become a statistically significant issue intruders will then arm themselves, resulting in more deaths. It's a dynamic problem.

The Drill SGT said...

As I see it, the homeowner's poor (but not criminal) decision was to leave the house. We don't have enough info to evaluate his shoot/dont shot decision.

What could have happened is several warning statements, one or more warning shots while an intruder, in the dark, continues to advance on the homeowner, ignoring all calls to stop.

He was only hit once, by the last shot, I'd like to know where the other three rounds were aimed and why...

Freder Frederson said...

Perhaps for ever sad tale like this one, there are 10 lives saved because break-ins are deterred as those hearing about them think: breaking into a house at night is a dangerous thing to do.

And then again, maybe not. You don't know, so why assign us to find out for you?

MadisonMan said...

Can anyone tell me how many lives are saved by the break ins that never occur because the would-be intruders are afraid the person inside might defend himself with a gun?

There is no way of creating an accurate metric for non-events such as the ones you describe.

AReasonableMan said...

Whatever happened to that nice young man Zimmerman? I guess he's settled down with his wife and has returned to being a productive member of society, after all that unfortunate business. And what about those two lawyers who did all that legal work for free. Weren't they a nice pair of fellows?

Kirk Parker said...

Big Mike,

Actually that experiment has already been performed.

Freder Frederson said...

Perhaps for ever sad tale like this one, there are 10 lives saved because break-ins are deterred as those hearing about them think: breaking into a house at night is a dangerous thing to do.

Hey, if we need to kill an occasional senile old man to make actual criminals think twice, where's the harm in that?

Kirk Parker said...


MadMan,

You're quite right that you can't count non-events, but attempts are different than "things that simply never happened", and there have been some efforts to quantify the former. (Hint to those that don't follow this issue: the numbers are huge, the only real debate is whether the count is "humongous" or "ginourmous".)

Broomhandle said...

TG,
My great-great-grandfather was also wandering around there with the 5th Iowa at that time. Fortunately, the locals were content with merely taking him prisoner, as opposed to shooting him.

Big Mike said...

@Kirk Parker, that's one of the events I was thinking of, yes.

Darrell said...

Zimmerman has a $2,000,000 legal bill to occupy his thoughts now. Since everyone involved knew he shouldn't have been charged, that is quite the Christmas present.

AReasonableMan said...

Darrell said...
Since everyone involved knew he shouldn't have been charged,


A true believer. Not many of them left. I salute you Darrell.

Birches said...

Before Althouse got to jiggling at the doorknob, I was thinking while reading that his wife is probably a teensy bit relieved that her husband's condition will not get any worse . . .

Mike said...

Unreasonable Man: There are studies and criminals who talk to psychologists in prison pretty overwhelmingly say they take precautions. For example, one recent study published in California (where I brandish a firearm only when necessary) noted that burglars who commit "hot" entry, where there is a high probability someone is home, tend toward houses without American flags and NRA stickers (on windows or vehicles). That is just a glimpse but there is wealth of data to contravene your stupid assertion. Even dumbass burglars don't want to engage in gunfights on "the other guy's" home turf -- or carpet as the case may be.

AReasonableMan said...

Mike said...
That is just a glimpse


... of an undocumented anecdote.

If there was any real data to support your assertion you would not be able to get the NRA to shut out about it.

Mike said...

They don't. They publish two magazines a month full of interesting news. However the part I just repeated was televised by local NBC affiliate KNBC. Also made it into news round-up on KFI 640 AM radio because the idea of a flag repelling burglars was too good a story to pass up. Not too good for the NYT to pass up, of course...

Mike said...

ARM probably doesn't believe that burglars avoid homes with dogs either. That tops the flag on the list.

Darrell said...

No one who followed the real trial of Zimmerman ever said that the State presented anything close to a convincing case. An Unreasonable Man lives up to his real handle once again.

Big Mike said...

Zimmerman's suffering is entirely Trayvon's mommy's fault. She never taught her kid not to play the knockout game with an armed guy unless the guy can really be knocked out with one punch.

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, regarding your 2:59 comment. Along with that I'd like to know how many Alzheimer victims die annually from doing things that they would have never done if they still had their wits about them. But Alzheimer victims who die slowly from exposure, as an example, don't get much press from the Times since their deaths don't help support any anti-gun crusade.

AReasonableMan said...

Big Mike said...
Zimmerman's suffering is entirely Trayvon's mommy's fault.


No responsibility for Zimmerman? Interesting point of view from the party of personal responsibility.

AReasonableMan said...

Darrell said...
No one who followed the real trial of Zimmerman ever said that the State presented anything close to a convincing case.


Not even all of the jurors were convinced they had done the right thing in acquitting him, much less the greater community. Sentiment has run steadily against Zimmerman as more has leaked out about his true nature. But, for the true believers, for whom Zimmerman was just a pawn in the game of gun rights, what did it matter?

He was a patsy. If he had taken a plea for manslaughter he would have minimal legal bills and could be rehabilitated into the general community. Instead he is a broke pariah. Good work guys, you must all be so proud.

EDH said...

Althouse said...
Perhaps for ever[y] sad tale like this one, there are 10 lives saved because break-ins are deterred as those hearing about them think: breaking into a house at night is a dangerous thing to do.

Heck, combine it with Obamacare.

IPAB "Death Panels" can identify late-stage dementia patients to be released into heavily armed neighborhoods late at night to provide abject lessons to all would-be burglars.

A win-win, ten times over.

Matthew Sablan said...

"Less than zero because when armed homeowners become a statistically significant issue intruders will then arm themselves, resulting in more deaths"

-- Then why in places where restrictions on people owning firearms do we see crime rates go down? (Read John Lott's More Guns, Less Crime before you even think about talking about this subject. You REALLY want to know the statistics BEFORE you start, because you're going to look really dumb, really fast if you don't.)

Big Mike said...

Let me explain so even ARM can understand. All of the evidence presented by either side points directly towards Martin throwing the first punch. Zimmerman's entire responsibility was limited to protecting himself from injury or death. Martin put Zimmerman into the position where the only way for Zimmerman to protect himself was to use his gun. If it hadn't been Zimmerman on that night, sooner or later it would have been someone else bigger or stronger or better armed. Once Martin's parents let him grow to young adulthood thinking that violence is the right way to resolve disagreements, the chances he would reach 21 alive were close to zilch.

People have an unalienable right to self-defense. Doesn't matter whether you personally believe it or not. It's the law.

Matthew Sablan said...

You can even buy it through the Althouse Amazon Portal!

Matthew Sablan said...

"If he had taken a plea for manslaughter he would have minimal legal bills and could be rehabilitated into the general community."

-- Except what he did he thought was not manslaughter (defending himself from an attacker who had overpowered him.)

I think the use of throwing onerous charges at people, in hopes they'll plea down to lesser charges is abuse of the justice system and morally abhorrent. Zimmerman has been acquitted of charges by a jury of his peers, the evidence presented shows that it was clear he was acting in self-defense. His previous and future actions are immaterial in that fact. All that matters in the story of Martin's shooting is what was happening -then and there.-

And, in that moment, apparently, all evidence and reason points to Zimmerman being justified in that shooting.

That doesn't make it good. There are many ways that could have ended without Martin being shot [actions, note, both people could have taken, that neither did.]

But, you don't care about that. You just want to distract from a real, honest discussion by dredging up the past to weigh things down so you can pretend to have a moral cause. You don't.

You would rather have an innocent man saddled with a conviction than for justice to have been served. He was innocent, and you'd rather he be punished than face that fact. That's not reasonable; that's not moral.

SGT Ted said...

"You would rather have an innocent man saddled with a conviction than for justice to have been served. He was innocent, and you'd rather he be punished than face that fact. That's not reasonable; that's not moral."


It also shows that they think the Justice System is supposed to be enforce leftwing notions of justice, to include "social justice".

Zimmerman was the victim of a modern, "social justice" lynch mob, trying to use the justice system as a tool of racial revenge.

Trayvon's moms lawyers, as well as the politically compromised prosecutors, also tried to use it as a Soviet style show trial to indict white America as irredeemably racist, rather than seek justice under the law.

Rusty said...

Matthew Sablan said...
"Less than zero because when armed homeowners become a statistically significant issue intruders will then arm themselves, resulting in more deaths"


Not exactly apples to apples, but it illustrates my point.

In Britain most burglaries are "hot" burglaries. Burglaries undertaken when the home or shop owner is present. British law has shown the evil doers that the home owner is powerless to defend his property. In the United States the vast number of burglaries are "cold" burglaries. The preference in the US is to rob when no one is at home. Why? Because there is no one there to shoot you, the burglar.

Paul Zrimsek said...

You would rather have an innocent man saddled with a conviction than for justice to have been served.

That is at least an opinion that could be held by a sane person, however morally blind. But what we're being asked to agree with is something a good deal zanier: that Zimmerman himself would be better off convicted of manslaughter than acquitted of everything. It's probably a mistake even trying to reason with someone who believes a thing like that.

AReasonableMan said...

Zimmerman was guilty of manslaughter. There is a broad consensus regarding this issue, outside of the gun nuts. Like O.J. he got off. Like O.J. he is a broke pariah who's outcome will likely be much worse than if he had just acknowledged his guilt.

Guilt is a terrible thing, especially when most people know you are guilty.

AReasonableMan said...

Rusty said...
British law has shown the evil doers that the home owner is powerless to defend his property.


This is such BS. In fact, in countries with strict gun control people are much safer. Duh!

Australia is a perfect example.

Tim said...

OJ nor Zimmerman "got off". The state failed badly in both cases to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the system worked, in that they were acquitted.

Did OJ kill his wife and her friend? Almost certainly either killed them or had them killed. But the state left tons of reasonable doubt.


Could Zimmerman have done things differently and not had to shoot Martin? Almost certainly. But Martin was no innocent angel, he WANTED the confrontation, he WANTED to beat up the cracker, and he DID get shot while doing so. And the state left more than reasonable doubt, they left me thinking I would probably have done shot if I had been Zimmerman.

Tim said...

OJ nor Zimmerman "got off". The state failed badly in both cases to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the system worked, in that they were acquitted.

Did OJ kill his wife and her friend? Almost certainly either killed them or had them killed. But the state left tons of reasonable doubt.


Could Zimmerman have done things differently and not had to shoot Martin? Almost certainly. But Martin was no innocent angel, he WANTED the confrontation, he WANTED to beat up the cracker, and he DID get shot while doing so. And the state left more than reasonable doubt, they left me thinking I would probably have done shot if I had been Zimmerman.

Skyler said...

This is too murky for a definitive analysis. This is why we have juries.

ymarsakar said...

Why does AR want to disarm people he doesn't like? Is putting him in charge really going to do any good?

Or is he hoping that his neighbors are forced to disarm so his criminal network can profit?