No charges in shooting of Georgia Alzheimer's patient, prosecutor says

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 28, 2014 9:17 PM

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia man who last November shot and killed a 72-year-old Alzheimer's patient who rang at his front door will not be charged with a crime because the homeowner feared for his safety, a county prosecutor said on Friday.

In the latest case to raise questions about the legality of asserting self-defense in a fatal shooting, Catoosa County District Attorney Herbert Franklin said he was declining to file charges against Joe Hendrix

"Hendrix was concerned that if the man got by him, his girlfriend in the house would be defenseless," Franklin said in a statement.

Under Georgia's 2006 "stand your ground" self-defense law, citizens have no duty to retreat if they feel threatened, in or outside the home, Franklin said.

Authorities say Ronald Westbrook, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, walked up to Hendrix's front door in Chickamauga, Georgia, carrying a flashlight and some mail, and began ringing the doorbell.

Westbrook, who lived about 3 miles away, then walked to the side and rear of the house, the prosecutor said.

Hendrix, took a gun and confronted Westbrook, ordering him to stop, but Westbrook kept advancing, Franklin said. Hendrix then shot Westbrook once in the chest, killing him.

"Hendrix was concerned that if the man got by him, his girlfriend in the house would be defenseless," Franklin said.

Westbrook's widow, Deanne Westbrook, said on Friday her husband was seeking help when he rang the doorbell at Hendrix's house.

"It was early in the morning and it was cold outside," she said.

Deanne Westbrook said the district attorney should have taken the case to a grand jury to decide whether charges were filed.

"To me, (Hendrix) is getting away with killing an innocent man," she said.

Franklin said he could find no evidence to dispute Hendrix's statement that he felt threatened when Westbrook approached his home.

The state's stand-your-ground law came under scrutiny after the 2012 death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Police in the central Florida town of Sanford initially declined to arrest shooter George Zimmerman, citing that state's stand-your-ground law and evidence that the unarmed Martin was getting the better of Zimmerman in a struggle.

Last November, a national coalition led by activist Jesse Jackson filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have Georgia's statute ruled unconstitutional.

(Reporting by David Beasley; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Lisa Shumaker and Ken Wills)