Forced to Kill: 4 Stories of Survival
At least four times this month, would-be crime victims in Charlotte fought back against people trying to rob them. Two suspects were killed, two injured.
The latest occurred Monday, police said, when a clerk killed a man trying to rob her northeast Charlotte store. Prosecutors haven't decided whether to charge her. But "she is emotionally devastated by the decision that she was forced to make," her lawyer said in a statement.
Four Charlotteans say they understand how she feels. All fatally shot someone while trying to protect themselves. None was charged. But all four say the killings altered their lives.
• May 19, 2000: Roy Parker, asleep upstairs at home, heard the doorbell ring, then loud banging. Clutching a revolver, he ran to the sunroom. "Stop!" Parker yelled. Outside, a man threw an iron patio chair against the window, shattering it. Parker fired two shots, safety bullets that are designed to disintegrate on impact. The man swung the chair again. The remaining bullets were real. Parker aimed a third time and fired. Parker said he never second guessed his actions.
He said officers who responded to the shooting of Mitchell Regis, 24, told him they would have done the same thing. Parker said he never wrestled with guilt. Before the shooting, he believed deeply in the principle of self defense, and he and his wife had taken a course on carrying a concealed weapon. He'd owned his .357 Magnum for 20 years, though he'd never shot at anyone. What happened didn't change his views. "You don't retreat at 1:30 at night when somebody is breaking into your house," he said last week in his south Charlotte home. "He left me no choice. It was his choice, not mine."
But after the initial shock wore off, he found his mind replaying the event, the loop endless. "I cried for several days," he said. The former marketing executive, now 58, was in training for a new job. But he couldn't concentrate and didn't start work for more than a month. Police referred him to a therapist who works with officers who have killed in the line of duty. Parker showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
He took anti-anxiety medication and saw the therapist until, after three years, he could function normally again. "I killed a person, and I don't like to shoot animals," Parker said. "When somebody attacks you and you defend yourself, you still think, `This is a person who doesn't even know me, and he wants inside my house, and he's not going to stop.' I was trying to make sense of the whole thing."
• Jan. 1, 2000: Someone had broken into Julie Williams' bail bonding business but the stillness inside made her think she was alone. She flicked on the lights and stepped through the mangled front door. Suddenly, a man lunged at her with a crowbar. She raised her gun and fired.
Today, two deadbolts secure every outside door of Julie Williams' home. A security system monitors the inside. Video cameras and a Rottweiler guard the yard. The retired Charlotte cop installed the security after the shooting because she was afraid. Now Williams says she keeps her house locked down because she doesn't want to have to kill again. "I just never, ever want to be back in that position," she said.
Williams, 55, fatally shot Judus Lewis Caudle, 38, on New Year's morning 2000. She'd stopped at Absolute Bail Bonding and interrupted the burglary. "There is no doubt in my mind, had I not defended myself, he would have killed me," she said. "But even though you take a life in defense of your own, it's something you have to live with. I live with it daily."
Williams never returned to the Kings Drive building where the shooting occurred. She now runs an embroidery and screen printing business. After the shooting, she became depressed. Then angry. At first, she said, she couldn't talk about the shooting. But now, she thinks it helps. "I don't think there are very many days that go by that I don't think about him," she said. "When I wake up, I think about it. When I'm on my (motorcycle), I think about it."
Williams had been a police officer for 20 years before she retired in 1996 as a sergeant. She never fired her weapon on the job. She has a permit and totes a loaded handgun in her purse or pocket. After dark, she lays it on the seat of her car. She carries it in her hand as she walks into her house. She still remembers Caudle coming at her. "He looked like he was 10 feet tall." She remembers him struggling to breathe after he fell to the ground. And she remembers stepping over his body to call for help. But Williams has forgotten his face.
"God blocked that image out to help me deal with it," she said. "I think that was God's grace."
• June 10, 2000: Inside the Busy Mini-Mart, Ruth Robinson watched as her husband struggled with an armed teenager. She ran to the counter and grabbed a gun. Crouched behind the counter, she fired blindly. Ruth Robinson was 66 when she killed Marquis Sanchez Vinson, 17. It was only the second time she'd ever fired a gun, she said.
"I don't know how to shoot a gun," she said. "He was trying to kill my husband. When I shot, I didn't mean to shoot him. I was just trying to scare him." She returned to work at the northwest Charlotte store the next day. She and her husband, James, started closing at midnight instead of 2:30 a.m. And they hired a man, kind of like a security guard, to hang out in the store. Before the shooting, she and her husband had talked about defending themselves in a robbery.
"I wasn't mad. I wasn't sad," she said. "I was disappointed that somebody would come and try to rob you when you work so hard." Robinson, now 73 and a widow, still runs the register at a relative's store one day a week. She said she thinks about the shooting, most often when she hears about robberies on TV. "These young kids, they need to go to school and get an education so they can get a decent job. They don't have to rob people," she said.
She didn't know the teenager and can't remember his name now. His brother came to see her a few weeks after the shooting, she said, and let her know his family didn't blame her. Still, she said, she won't ever forget it. In yet another encounter with a convenience store robber, Robinson herself was nearly killed last year.
Two teenagers walked into her sister's store on Beatties Ford Road and ordered her to give up the money. As one came around the counter, she said, he saw her going for a gun and shot her in the mouth. She shot back but missed. She believes she would have hit him if not for her arthritis. Robinson spent three months in a hospital. Now she has to eat pureed food. Still, she'll probably reach for a gun next time. "If you work that hard for your money," she said, "you shouldn't let someone come in and rob what you got."
Elijah Hackett III
• Feb. 12, 2006: As he sat upstairs, he heard a thud and two bangs. Elijah Hackett III said he grabbed his shotgun. A second later, he heard someone charging up the stairs. Just as he fired, he recognized the man. Elijah Hackett III killed his mother's ex-husband.
Hackett said he still doesn't know how Joe Scott Odell, 42, got in that night or why he came rushing up the stairs. Because of break-ins, Hackett, 30, was staying at the west Charlotte plumbing business he runs with his mother. Odell used to work at the plumbing business, but he'd been on the outs with Hackett's mother. Hackett and Odell didn't get along.
"Why did he run up the stairs? My truck was parked outside. He should have recognized it," Hackett said. Hackett said he still doesn't know whether his former stepfather had a weapon. Prosecutors cleared him in the case.
Sometimes he and his mother, Jackie, try to figure out why Odell showed up there or what he planned to do. They both referred to his death as "a relief" in some ways. They said there had been tension and threats -- and his mother feared violence loomed. "I wish I had done it, not him," Jackie Hackett, 54, said. "I wish it were my burden instead of his."
Elijah Hackett said he had no choice, but feels for Odell's family. "This is nothing I'm proud of. It's not something anybody should have to do. I hate that had to be a part of my life."
The Charlotte Observer
Labels: Self Defense