Santa Cruz County

Police: Armed Homeowner Fends Off Would-be Attacker in Halloween Mask

The victim warned the suspect that they, too, had a gun and police said that is when the suspect ran away.

WATSONVILLE, Calif. - Police said a would-be thief got a surprise when he knocked on the wrong door just after midnight Tuesday on the 200 block of Carey Avenue.

The victim told police that someone armed with a gun and wearing a Halloween mask was at the front door. As soon as the victim opened the door and saw the gun, they slammed the door in the suspect's face, said police.

The suspect tried to kick the door down to get inside the home, but the victim grabbed their own gun, said police. 

Through a hole in the door, the suspect aimed his gun at the victim, said police.  The victim warned the suspect that they, too, had a gun and police said that is when the suspect ran away.

In this case, shots weren't fired by either the suspect or the victim.  Legal ezperts say there are some important factors in determining whether using deadly force is legal.

In California, a person faced with deadly force, has the right to protect themselves under the castle doctrine -- also known as stand your ground.  If deadly force is used, a jury uses several guidelines like these, to decide whether the person had a right to self-defense.   

Attorney Stephen Wagner said he's handled both defense and prosecution cases involving deadly force inside a home.  Wagner said when a case like this comes along, the laws work strongly in favor of the victim.

"So then there's the merger of two bodies of law.  The right to defend yourself and the right to defend property," said attorney Stephen Wagner with Noland, Hamerly, Etienne & Hoss in Salinas, CA.

Wagner said the jury uses specific instructions to decide if the person had a right to stand their ground. 

"Which really means that a person who is confronted with deadly force, does not have to retreat," Wagner said.    

Stand your ground laws got a lot of publicity after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was tried and acquitted for gunning down 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida almost two years ago.  Wagner said in California a person doesn't have a right to self-defense if he or she provokes a fight and finding the right evidence can be difficult.

"Pretty common to have a scenario where you've got one persons word against the other," Wagner said.    

In this Watsonville case, even though no one fired, Wagner said based on the information he has so far, the victim could've had a right to fire. 

"If there's facts to support that the potential intruders were in fact armed, then the homeowner would very likely have acted within his rights or her rights," Wagner said.

We tried to speak with the homeowners, but they said they're just too scared to share their story right now.

Officers are actively working this case. Anyone with information regarding this case is strongly encouraged to call the Watsonville Police Department Crime Tip line a Police: t 728-3544 or the Watsonville Police Department Investigation Bureau at 768-3352

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