Home Is Where the Hurt Is

Coloradoís Make My Day law was designed to protect homeowners who were forced to kill in self-defense. Hereís who itís really helped.

The first successful application of the new law didn't make local headlines because it was so far away and because, recalls Otero County District Attorney Gary Stork, "the case was just right on point." In fact, the only thing odd about it was that the killing involved a man of God.

On December 17, 1985, in the small southeast Colorado town of Rocky Ford, Gilbert Ramon Reyes, 31 years old, got into a fight with his wife. Reyes had quit his job as a supervisor for a tree-trimming service two months earlier; he'd had trouble finding work since then and had begun drinking heavily. The couple had switched churches in recent years, and their new pastor, the Reverend James Thomas Brown of the River of Life Fellowship Church, was called on to try to settle the fight.

Brown was a tall, imposing man -- an ex-Marine, physically capable yet perhaps not the right person for the job. Although he was a reverend and considered himself a close friend of Gilbert Reyes's, there had been whispers that Brown been carrying on an affair with Reyes's wife, Marina -- or, at least, had looked upon her with dishonorable intentions.

David Guenther.
David Guenther.

When the pastor left the couple's house, not much had been solved. Reyes, still worked up, followed the pastor to his home. Seconds after Brown went inside, Reyes burst in. He was worked up, and it was clear from the start that he intended to harm someone. Brown ordered his wife and children to the upstairs bathroom, where they locked the door. A deadly game of chase began. Several times, Reyes got close enough to strike Brown. At one point, the pastor tried to call the police, but Reyes ripped the wire out of the wall.

The end came when the two men entered the kitchen. "Unfortunately for Mr. Reyes," Stork recalls, "the Reverend Brown had just bought some brand-new knives. They were still in that wooden holder -- you know, the kind that sits on the counter." Brown pulled an eight-inch butcher's knife from the holder and plunged it into Reyes's chest, killing him.

Brown found a sympathetic prosecutor in Stork. "I'm supportive of people trying to protect their property, and there's something about a person coming inside your home," the DA says today. "If someone came into my home, with my children there, I mean -- my God." Brown was cleared at a coroner's inquest. He continued preaching in Rocky Ford for a while, then moved to California. Stork says he fielded some complaints from Reyes's family following the killing, but any waves made by the case died down soon after.

The same could not be said of the violent and complicated case of David Guenther.

In the months and weeks leading up to the passage of the new law in 1985, many of Colorado's prosecutors fought the proposed legislation, arguing that traditional self-defense laws already on the books adequately protected citizens in their homes. "I remember three or four cases when I was working as a prosecutor in Denver, before Make My Day, when people broke into a guy's home and he pasted them," recalls Castalor Garcia, now an attorney in private practice in Alamosa. "I never filed charges; a man's home is his castle."

"Everybody knows that if a burglar breaks in, you can shoot 'em," says Frank Daniels, the Mesa County district attorney. "You don't need a new law to tell a person that."

"I don't have a problem with the concept of defending one's self under the law," adds Adams County DA Bob Grant, who continues to chafe at the law. "But when you create a license to kill when someone comes into your house, there is a danger of a person getting away with a murder. It becomes a question of creating a legal defense after the fact -- manufacturing facts to fit the law. It's an invitation to violence.

"In the Guenther case, it appeared to me that that was a very distinct possibility. That case, to me, was a travesty."

"My goodness, yes, I remember it," says Bob Pepin, a Denver attorney. "It was a messy case, for a variety of reasons.

"David Guenther lived in a little neighborhood in Northglenn -- small, narrow streets, not large homes. He didn't get along with some of his neighbors. There had been a series of small conflicts -- cars parked in the wrong spot on the street, things like that."

On April 20, 1986, Guenther's neighbors, Josslyn and Michael Volosin, hosted a rowdy party. Guests entertained themselves by drinking beer and kamikaze shots. At one point, several of the guests wandered over to Guenther's yard, where they let the air out of David's tires, broke a few bushes and started banging a pan and drunkenly shouting for Guenther to come out and fight.

David and his wife, Pam, called the police. The cops arrived and spoke with the Volosins, who assured them that the trouble was over. The police reported this to the Guenthers and left. David and Pam went back to sleep. But soon after that, Michael Volosin, who later claimed he'd heard someone bang on his screen door, was back at the Guenther's house, pounding on their door.

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