Why Make My Day Law Didn't Kill Pot Grower Keith Hammock Murder Charge

Update: Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey has now formally filed charges against Keith Hammock, the man accused of shooting two teens on October 9. The teens were allegedly trying to steal marijuana plants from Hammock's back yard on High Street.

One of the teens died, while the other was severely wounded.

Hammock is facing two counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder, and one count each of manufacture and cultivation of marijuana. The filing also alleges that Hammock wounded a seventeen-year-old in September 2015 in a similar shooting incident. 

Continue to see our original post on this incident, which outlines why the shooting doesn't meet the standards of Colorado's Make My Day statute. 

Original post, 7:53 a.m. October 13: The shooting last weekend of two teens who allegedly tried to heist marijuana plants from a backyard grow in the Whittier neighborhood, which left one fifteen-year-old dead and a fourteen-year-old boy critically injured, is hardly the first bit of mayhem in Colorado over a pot grow, legal or otherwise, and it probably won't be the last. 

Police believe that Keith David Hammock, 48, fired on the two youths with a .22-caliber rifle from a second-story window as they were seeking to flee over a fence.

The case is being investigated as a homicide; according to a Denver police detective's affidavit (read it below), Hammock said he "went out back and found two kids laying on the ground near the compost heap" but made no admission of firing upon them. 

Does defending a weed cultivation operation ever qualify as a legitimate use of lethal force under Colorado's home protection statute, better known as the Make My Day law? That depends on a couple of key factors. 

At first glance, Colorado's Make My Day law, first put into effect in 1985, is simply a commonsense version of the "castle doctrine" — the idea, deeply grounded in English common law, that your domicile is your castle and you have the right to defend it.  The law allows anyone to use deadly force in his or her home when confronted with an uninvited intruder and a reasonable belief that said intruder "is committing or intends to commit a crime" against person or property.

Under such circumstances, the home defender is immune from criminal prosecution or civil liability.

Although initially hotly debated, the Make My Day law has proven less controversial over time than many subsequent bits of legislation, such as the Florida "stand your ground" law that was invoked in the George Zimmerman trial.

But as we reported three years ago in a report on the law and its impacts, Make My Day has come up in some cases that seem to have little to do with home defense. Although such attempts are rarely successful, the statute has sometimes been part of a self-defense claim in the shooting of a troublesome relative, a spouse's lover or a drug dealer peddling bad meth. Supporters of the law say it's working as intended, sparing crime victims from the ordeal of prosecution and having some residual, albeit hard to quantify, benefits to public safety.

Whether the law has any application to pot growers seems to depend largely on where the pot is being grown. There's no allowance in the law for shooting fleeing suspects who've already departed the residence, nor does it generally cover fracases in the street.

But three years ago, Al Michaud, a Colorado Springs resident, managed to fire on and wound two out of three intruders who rushed into his apartment, seeking to rob him of his marijuana plants and cash. Michaud didn't face any charges for what was clearly a case of home defense. 

Even less clear-cut cases can sometimes pass muster, too. Weld County prosecutors decided not to pursue a murky case against Karen Cordova in 2011, after she'd defended her medical marijuana grow operation from two would-be robbers — even though she apparently didn't call 911. One of the suspects staggered home with a stab wound; another was found a day later on the edge of Cordova's property, dead from a gunshot wound.

Over the years, there have been several attempts to expand the Make My Day statute to cover the defense of businesses, too. Lawmakers have shot down each one of those proposals. Now that marijuana grows and dispensaries have become a prime target for thieves, that sort of expansion becomes even more problematic. Would such a move cut down on property crimes, as Make My Day apparently did in its first years of implementation, or would it simply encourage more tragic shootings like last Sunday's fatal bullets on High Street?

Here's Keith Hammock's arrest affidavit.

Keith Hammock Arrest Affidavit

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast

Latest Stories