A rural Iberia man who shot an intruder at his home won't face criminal charges, but the Miller County prosecuting attorney says that not filing charges could set a bad precedent.
A rural Iberia man who shot an intruder at his home won't face criminal charges, but the Miller County prosecuting attorney says that not filing charges could set a bad precedent. Miller County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Howard said Mark Routh's use of force — a shotgun in this case — was justifiable as an act of self defense.
"A citizen’s right of self defense, to make defense of other innocents, and to use force in confronting and apprehending criminals, without any duty to retreat or wait for police, has always existed under Missouri law," Howard noted in a letter to Miller County Sheriff Bill Abbott dated July 15.
The letter also notes that under Missouri law, a private person may use force, including deadly force, to prevent the escape of a suspect who has committed a Class A felony.
The incident in question occurred on May 6 at Routh's home in the rural Iberia area of Miller County.
According to a probable cause statement filed on May 6 by the Miller County Sheriff's Department, Mark Routh was asleep at his home. Routh's wife, son and nephew were also at the residence.
Shortly after midnight, Routh's nephew noticed a man, later identified as Donovane Hanna of Iberia, trying to gain access to the residence.
When notified of a possible intruder, Routh armed himself with a 12-gauge shotgun and exited the home. The subsequent investigation revealed that while looking for the intruder, those inside the home turned on a porch light and found Hanna crouching on the porch. The witnesses gave consistent statements that they saw Hanna wield a knife. Routh ordered Hanna to put down the knife down and fired a warning shot into the air.
During an ensuing physical altercation between Routh and Hanna, Routh sustained a serious stab wound to the inner thigh. According to Howard's letter, the wound was life-threatening and required emergency treatment by the first-responding deputies. He later underwent surgery at Lake Regional Hospital.
As Hanna attempted to leave the scene, Routh regained control of the shotgun and fired, hitting Hanna in the lower back and buttocks.
When deputies arrived on the scene, they placed Hanna in handcuffs and took statements from all witnesses. Hanna alleged he had no criminal intent and was "merely pretending to try to break in the house to gain attention as part of a plan to commit what might be termed 'suicide by homeowner.'"
Deputies found a second knife at Hanna's side and a steel claw hammer nearby.
Hanna was charged with first degree attempted burglary, a Class C felony, first degree assault, a Class A felony, and armed criminal action in the incident. Both a knife and a claw hammer are considered deadly weapons.
For Routh to be convicted of a crime in this case, Howard argued a jury would have a difficult time deciding that Hanna had justifiable cause to stab Routh, and, more implausibly, that Routh did not believe Hanna was fleeing the scene of the attempted burglary.
"Since Hanna was in fact fleeing, and was in fact still armed with a deadly weapon, persuading a jury to find otherwise would be appear to be particularly difficult," Howard noted.
Howard admitted, however, that not prosecuting Routh in this case may set a dangerous precedent that property owners can just shoot any fleeing person suspected of a crime.
"However, I am ethically bound to refrain from prosecuting cases not supported by the evidence, even if what some believe to be a broader societal benefit might be advanced by a prosecution," Howard said.
Resorting to using a firearm isn't necessarily the most prudent way to resolve a situation such as the one that occurred on May 6, Howard offered, although he didn't second guess his reaction to a situation he called "a serious continuing threat to himself and family."
This case is the exception, not the rule, to using deadly force.
Howard concluded, "no one should assume that shooting another person under any circumstances would ever routinely be found justifiable."