The bullet did it. End of narrative?

A horrible carjacking in Detroit resulted in the tragic death of an innocent grandmother, but the headline and the focus of the front page story in today's Detroit Free Press is on a bullet. They really make it stand out too.

Geraldine Jackson was happy her granddaughter was back from the South. To welcome her back to Detroit, the 69-year-old was cooking a celebratory soul-food feast on Wednesday in her home on the city's northwe --


It sped through the walls of Jackson's house and hit her.

The meal went unfinished.

She was dead.

A robbery victim nearby had fired his gun at his mugger; the bullet that pierced the modest home on the 18400 block of Vaughan was a stray.

If you relied solely on that story, you would tend to think that the victim was way out of line in the way he used his gun.

Was he? According to The Detroit News, there may have been an exchange of gunfire between the carjacker and the victim:

The 65-year-old then shot at the thief. The bullets traveled a block away, police believe, and struck Jackson under the right arm and the stomach.

Police are also investigating whether the car thief fired any shots.

Detroit Police spokeswoman Sgt. Eren Stephens said the case will be given to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. Police are questioning the carjacking victim but no arrests have been made.

Police are looking for the carjacking suspect.

I hate it when I can't get the facts from a front page story and have to resort to Google, but that's what happens in cases involving the "let's blame the bullet" narrative. Anyway, a local Fox News account says the suspect has been arrested:
This all started when police say a man was checking on a vacant house on Evergreen in Detroit. Another man barged into the home and robbed him at gunpoint. That armed suspect then hopped into the robbery victim's truck and took off, but he did not get very far. He was clipped by a car, struck a tree and then took off running.

The robbery victim happened to have a CCW. He chased after him and starting shooting at the suspect. Tragically, the bullets intended for the suspect instead pierced the wall of Geraldine's house.

Geraldine's daughter tells us her 69-year-old mother recently survived heart surgery only to randomly be struck and killed by stray bullets.

We are told the robbery suspect has been arrested.

Not all of the accounts use the word "carjacking" but this one does:
Sgt. Eren Stephens tells The Detroit News the woman was hit in the chest Wednesday afternoon by a bullet from the gun of a 65-year-old man, who minutes earlier had been robbed then carjacked.

Police tell WJBK-TV the man had been taking care of a vacant house a block away when another man robbed him at gunpoint, then ran outside and jumped into the victim's truck and took off.

The robbery victim started shooting at the truck.

Police are searching for the man suspected of the armed robbery and carjacking.

And this story confirms that the robber/carjacker was arrested, and also reports a crucial detail -- that shots were exchanged between him and his victim:
the victim, Geraldine Jackson, was hit by a stray bullet after two men began shooting at each other outside her home.
OK, this would make a great law school exam question, but for one thing: it is impossible to know the facts. Based on what I have read, I cannot say what happened. (Actually, not being able to ascertain the facts might make it even better as a law school exam question.)

If it turns out that the victim was using lethal force after the crime had already taken place, then he might not have been within his rights. But I stress might -- because in some instances lethal force may be used to recover property, and if this carjacking is ongoing in nature, it's not quite the same thing as retaliation. Moreover, the guy was driving like a madman (one account says he already struck another car), and the victim may have acted both in fear of his own life and in order to protect others. So it's not quite the same thing as if someone breaks into my house and then runs out the door with my stuff, and I run down the street and shoot him a block away. In any case, if I were to go running after him and he started shooting at me, I would be allowed to return fire.

What is being completely missed, though, in any of these discussions, is something everyone who goes to law school learns in basic criminal law.

The felony murder rule.

The felony-murder doctrine provides that if a homicide occurs during the commission or attempted commission of a felony, the homicide is a form of murder.
While Michigan has abolished the felony murder rule, it has retained it in the case of carjackings. However, to prove first degree murder, intent to kill is required, so whether this would be first degree murder would depend on whether or not the armed carjacker in fact exchanged fire with his victim. If he didn't, then it would still be second degree murder:
intending to kill or do great bodily harm or knowingly creating a very high risk of death or great bodily harm knowing that death or such harm would be the likely result of his/her actions.
But for whatever reason, the focus here is not on the carjacker (who by any standard is the primary, if not the only wrongdoer) but on his law-abiding victim who was found himself in a very dangerous position through no fault of his own.

The focus ought to be on the criminal, but they're acting as if he's irrelevant.


Imagine if the same criminal had robbed a police officer who was inside the same house, and managed to carjack his police car. If the officer gave chase and opened fire, would he be facing charges? I doubt it. And if he did, the news media would not be blaming "the bullet."

Of course, I'm so cynical that I suspect that if it turns out that the carjacker did in fact fire shots at the victim, it won't be widely reported. And even if it turned out that the grandmother was killed by one of his bullets fired from a gun he feloniously possessed, the blame would still be on The Bullet.

But let's suppose for a moment that there had been no bullets involved, but that instead the grandmother had been struck and killed by the vehicle as it was being driven at breakneck speeds by the same carjacker. Would "The Bumper" that crushed through her chest be blamed?

(I guess that was another cynical rhetorical question. Narratives seem to invite them.)

posted by Eric on 05.13.10 at 09:58 AM


Hate to say it, but the CCW holder forgot the first rule: make sure of your target and what is behind it. Because those bullets have to go somewhere.

SDN   ·  May 13, 2010 11:57 AM

That is a serious problem, especially in any urban area. (The house which was hit was a block away.) In fact, if I shoot a burglar in my home, the bullet could easily go through the wall and into the next door neighbor's house.

Eric Scheie   ·  May 13, 2010 12:20 PM

Which is why you tailor the ordnance to suit the mission. My idea of a home defense round is a 12 gauge loaded with #4 goose shot. Turns bad guys into hamburger at home defense ranges, won't go through the outside walls (including the typical sound barrier walls between apartments). Second choice is handgun, .38 +P to .45 hollowpoints. Enough oomph to get the job done, likely to be stopped by reasonable hard cover.

I read stories about some moron opening up with a deer rifle and cringe: nothing on the street is likely to do more than tumble the round. Memo: most burglars don't have body armor.

SDN   ·  May 13, 2010 9:43 PM

Or you can always put Glasers or some other frangible round in while defending yourself at home. They're a little pricey, but you only need a couple mags worth, and they're not what you use at the range. You are visiting the range at least a couple hours a month, right?

SDN   ·  May 13, 2010 9:49 PM

If they get past Coco (extremely unlikely that such a thing would happen, IMO), they'll most likely be facing this:

Eric Scheie   ·  May 14, 2010 12:32 AM

That works. 8-)

SDN   ·  May 14, 2010 7:26 AM

After reading this post I have spent the night pondering both the post and the responses I have seen to it. You see, I grew up on the 9900 block of Vaughan, about 3-1/2 miles south of the shooting.

Selection of the proper round to use for self defense or dissecting the legal statutes involving this particular situation do not address what has happened in Detroit. It is neither unique to that city nor is it a primary reason to act the way the 65 year old man acted.

What is the main thing I learned while growing up and living in Detroit is that the general way of living there is more violent than it ought to be. I donít believe in dictating some government inspired ďsolutionĒ nor do I believe in the natural goodness of all people.

What I have experienced is that when any place becomes violent enough to threaten people, they move unless they canít. The result is a general coarsening of life to the point where self defense is considered a first option rather than a last resort.

The solution? I donít know other than to increase the protection of residents to the point that they no longer feel endangered just being where they are at and having to protect themselves. One of the benefits from a large city has been that safety is provided to them to the extent that they can pursue more profitable activities. Detroit has lost that. That is the sad lesson I take from it.

NedLudd   ·  May 14, 2010 8:37 AM

Ned, that kind of thing happens everywhere in the world I'm aware of. The bottom line is that a certain percentage of the human race is evil, and you either equip yourself to deal with it or you hope that someone with a more realistic outlook is nearby to deal with it.

SDN   ·  May 15, 2010 8:43 AM

Big Fat Hairy Proviso: All of the quoted versions may be incorrect in part or in toto. That said, I'm pretty darn sure that even the states who allow citizens to shoot (or kill) in self-defense when they have a reasonable expectation that their lives are in danger do not recognize the right of a citizen to shoot a perp who is running away from the citizen, even if said perp has their wallet, or other personal property.

From my reading, the third rule (after 1:The gun is always loaded, and 2:Have a plan to kill everyone yo meet) is: Always know where your round is going downrange.

Casey   ·  May 21, 2010 1:37 AM

Casey, that's why I live in TX: the law specifically allows me to use deadly force to defend my own or someone else's property from anyone who tries to steal it.

SDN   ·  May 21, 2010 11:24 PM

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