Colorado's Make My Day law, which gives homeowners the right to use deadly force if their domicile is being invaded, wasn't intended to be a license to kill — and in two recent cases, it wasn't. So it's surprising that the Douglas County Sheriff's Office is on the cusp of giving a free pass to a shooting in Littleton last weekend that killed 59-year-old Stan Collins, even before the inquiry into it is complete.
"While this is still an open investigation and a few more interviews need to be conducted," the DCSO tweeted on June 13, "it appears to be an incident of self-defense."
At around 6:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 12, according to the sheriff's office, dispatchers received a call from a home on the 9000 block of Fraser River Street, in the Littleton subdivision of Sterling Ranch. The person who phoned "stated that a male had entered the home with a gun," the DCSO noted. What deputies found there prompted a death investigation.
A Dougco rep subsequently identified the deceased man as Collins. The name of the "other involved party" wasn't shared, "but we can say that this person did live inside the home," the department tweeted, stressing that while Collins wasn't a resident, "all parties involved were known to each other."
Colorado's Make My Day law has been on the books since 1985 but remains among the state's most misunderstood mandates, in part because of its limitations. According to the statute: "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 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.
And then there's the strange story of Scott Gudmundsen, who 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 — in a move similar to what had been done to George Floyd almost three months earlier — and pressed the muzzle of a gun to his head.
Yes, Wesley is Black. In March, Gudmundsen pleaded guilty to felony menacing, and last month, he was sentenced to four years of probation.
The Littleton resident whose actions resulted in the Saturday fatality looks likely to avoid punishment entirely — and if that's the case, the public may never know the circumstances of Collins's death.
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