Denver Make My Day Shooting and Why Law Isn't a Free Pass to Kill

The latest shooting took place on the 2200 block of Lafayette Street in Denver.
The latest shooting took place on the 2200 block of Lafayette Street in Denver.
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Late on Saturday, March 20, a Denver homeowner shot and killed an alleged intruder. The Denver district attorney will now determine if the shooting was justified under Colorado's Make My Day law — and that's not a slam dunk.

In at least two cases in recent years, that law did not serve as a license to kill. And then there's the strange story of Scott Gudmundsen, a Loveland man who just agreed to a plea deal after pulling a gun on door-to-door roofing salesmen because he thought they were members of Antifa....

The Denver Police Department release on the latest incident isn't overflowing with details. According to the DPD, officers responded to a report of a shooting on the 2200 block of Lafayette Street at approximately 9:15 p.m. on Saturday, March 20. An adult male was quickly transported to a nearby hospital with a gunshot wound, and just shy of 1 p.m. March 21, the DPD tweeted that he had died. The department added: "At the case conclusion the Denver DA will determine if criminal charges are applicable."

The operative edict in the case will almost certainly be Colorado's Make My Day law, a measure passed in 1985 that's among the state's most misunderstood mandates, in part because of its limitations. The statute notes, "A person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and he may use a degree of force which he reasonably believes to be necessary for that purpose." It adds that "deadly physical force may be used only if a person reasonably believes a lesser degree of force is inadequate and...the other person is using or reasonably appears about to use physical force against an occupant of a dwelling or business establishment while committing or attempting to commit a burglary," as defined elsewhere in state law.

A primer on Colorado's Make My Day law from Miller Leonard PC helps parse the legalese. "The resident who used lethal force against an intruder must have some cause to believe that the intruder was going to harm someone in the house," the guide notes, explaining that the law doesn't apply if "you shoot someone who is being shady in your backyard." If you do, you "can be charged with homicide," since "Colorado's Make My Day law only applies to intruders who are within the walls of your home."

That's why Keith Hammock, who shot two teens trying to steal plants from his backyard marijuana grow in 2016, was prosecuted and ultimately convicted of second-degree murder. And it explains the ongoing legal jeopardy faced by Brice Fitch, who went from being a victim to an accused party in 2019.

At 4:10 a.m. on April 19 of that year, according to an arrest affidavit in the case, DPD personnel responded to 367 South Jasmine Street on a report of an attempted motor-vehicle theft and shots fired. At the address, they found Fitch, who told investigators that he'd heard a rustling sound while letting his dogs into the backyard. That's when he noticed that the door to his black, late-model Dodge Charger was open and the interior lights were on. He subsequently retrieved his AR-15 and opened fire as a man and woman attempted to enter the car — accidentally, he claimed, though he purposefully squeezed off two more rounds as the Charger sped away. Later that night, the vehicle was found in Aurora with 26-year-old Guillermo Medrano-Sandoval dead inside. Fitch was subsequently charged with first-degree murder, but no trial has taken place — a common delay in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As for Gudmundsen, he was arrested in Loveland on June 11, 2020, after reportedly holding two men at gunpoint because he thought they were anti-fascist thugs. Instead, they were salesmen who'd come onto his property to pitch roof repair — and because one of the pair, Barry Wesley, also played football for Colorado State University, he got a chance to tell his story to Sports Illustrated  in August. According to Wesley, Gudmundsen ran toward him and his partner clad in body armor and camo and shouted, "Police! Get on the fucking ground or I'll kill you!" After Wesley complied, he said Gudmundsen put a knee on his neck, similar to what was done to George Floyd, and pressed the muzzle of a gun to his head.

Yes, Wesley is Black.

Last week, Gudmundsen pleaded guilty to one charge of felony menacing. He's scheduled for sentencing on May 4, and as part of the agreement, he has agreed to receive mental health treatment.

The Denver homeowner who killed the alleged intruder over the weekend remains unidentified, and may never be officially named — if the DA forgoes charges, that is.

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