There was a horrendous story in last week’s issue about a guy who stabbed an intruder to death. Several readers took me to task for my tagline on the story, so I’m putting it here as a place for discussion.
Killin’ Just Makes a Guy Hungry
Eugene Michael Falle, 35, was on trial for second-degree murder in Edmonton, Alta., Canada. Falle admitted he stabbed Shane Chalifoux, 18, to death after Chalifoux broke into his apartment — and Falle stabbed him 39 times to get the job done. “I told him just hurry up and die already,” he told police. “So I keep stabbin’ him and stabbin’ and stabbin’ him and stabbin’ him and stabbin’ him, trying to slash his throat to get a jugular vein,” he said. Chalifoux begged for his life, but Falle kept going. “He wouldn’t bleed properly the way he should’ve bled, according to the movies.” Falle finally got Chalifoux’s jugular, and he died. After it was over, Falle leaned out a window and asked a neighbor to order a pizza for him. After hearing the story, the jury returned its verdict: self defense, and Falle was set free. (Edmonton Journal) …Who knew that the O.J. jury moved to Canada?
Anyone who has been paying attention knows that True’s taglines are meant to be “humorous, ironic, or thought-provoking” — with that word “or” being the key. Sure it’s great that sometimes a tagline manages to be all three, they’re not definitely not always meant to be — sometimes humor is enough, and sometimes humor is wholly inappropriate.
In this case, yes: I was trying to be funny, and probably most people chuckled, but the main point was definitely to provoke people to think a bit, rather than just laugh. Several didn’t quite get the point.
Ray, who didn’t say where he is, complained:
Sometimes you try way too hard to be funny. Maybe it’s illegal to break into a person’s apartment in Alberta and permissible to protect one’s self and property — as it ought to be everywhere. If you can’t tell the difference between self defense (albeit somewhat exaggerated) and OJ’s cold blooded murder, maybe it’s a really good thing you’re not in law enforcement!
I used to be! More on that below.
Let’s Get to the Real Point
Jay in New Jersey, a “loyal reader for at least 10 years,” writes:
This is the first tagline that’s inspired me to write to you. I’m not a violent person, but if someone broke into my home, and I was in a situation to defend myself, I’d be all for that. What criminal doesn’t beg for forgiveness once they’ve been beaten? This piece of scum bit on the wrong person and got what he deserved. If the attacked had a gun and shot the attacker, this wouldn’t be news…what’s the difference?
The difference is what “self defense” means, despite what the first reader seems to think. It means repelling the attack with the means necessary — yes, up to and including shooting someone to death, as Jay notes.
In fact, U.S. courts have become fairly lenient with civilians on the matter: if it’s “reasonable” to be in fear for your life, the police and, if necessary, prosecutors and courts, have been fine with ruling it “justified homicide” when people have been reasonable in defending themselves from attack.
That does not mean you can chase a fleeing burglar out your front door, catch up to him, and beat him to death with a golf club, does it? That’s murder: when someone is fleeing, you can’t very well claim you were in imminent fear over your personal safety.
Pretty obviously, the police and prosecutors in the case at hand didn’t think Falle was “justified” in his homicide: they prosecuted him. It went all the way to the jury, as the story notes.
Long-time readers remember I was, in fact, a sheriff’s deputy in California, so I not only have some training on the subject, but as a guy who has carried a gun I’ve given the matter of self-defense more thought than the average person. I have indeed thought about what I would do if someone broke into my house and I believed they were there to cause me or my family harm: I wouldn’t hesitate to defend myself and my family, up to and including shooting the intruder dead.
Where Does “Defense” Stop?
The key there is “up to and including.” The point is not “Someone is in my house, therefore I’m justified in killing them.” Rather, it’s “is there a threat?” and, if so, “How do I nullify that threat?” If it’s a neighbor who’s there to borrow a cup of sugar and thought I had said “come in,” I’d just as soon not put a bullet in their head.
And even if it is someone with evil intent, the law doesn’t say “It’s fine to kill them,” it says one can use reasonable force to repel the threat. “Reasonable” — in my state — means up to and including lethal force, as dictated by the situation.
But once an intruder is subdued, “defense” is over.
So, what was the point of my tagline on the story? It was to suggest that perhaps, at some point, the threat that Chalifoux did in fact represent to Falle ended before Falle killed him. And Falle indeed meant to kill him, as his own words made clear. Kill him; not repel the attack, not stop the threat, not end the danger to himself. Therefore…
His homicide didn’t sound any too “justified” to me, and obviously it didn’t to the police or prosecutors, either.
The point isn’t that Chalifoux “begged for forgiveness” (or mercy, or whatever), since indeed bad guys do do that when they’ve been beaten. The point is that Falle got away with homicide — just like I think O.J. Simpson did — when there was no apparent legal or moral justification for committing that homicide.
Even then, I’d rather the jury let him go if they truly had “reasonable doubt” that the prosecution proved their case, just as I’d much rather a guilty O.J. be set free rather than an innocent O.J. be thrown in prison.
But it’s still fair to raise an eyebrow when the “Court of Public Opinion” is left feeling an injustice was done.
I’m interested in your thoughts: you don’t have to register to post your comments below.
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