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Will Lake County homeowner who shot boy before police chase face charges?

home on Edwards Road

Lake County Sheriff’s officers were called early Tuesday morning to a home on Edwards Road where the homeowner reported he fired a gun at car thieves. (Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer)

Legal experts believe a 75-year-old man who authorities say shot and killed a 14-year-old during an attempted car burglary in the man’s driveway is unlikely to face charges.

Lake County Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Covelli said a preliminary investigation into the shooting indicates the man feared for his safety and the safety of his wife inside their home near Old Mill Creek when he opened fire early Tuesday morning. The man told investigators that when he confronted a group of teens in his driveway at 1:15 a.m., at least of them moved quickly toward him, carrying something in his hand. The 75-year-old fired more than three times from a “small-caliber revolver,” striking the Chicago 14-year-old in the head, Covelli said.

Authorities later recovered a “Bowie-style” knife at the scene.

Illinois requires an element of fear for one’s personal safety when using deadly force, legal experts said. State statute does allow use of deadly force against the commission of “forcible felonies,” which includes burglary, but legal precedents set a different standard, attorneys said.

“It’s on the books, but you’re not going to see it recognized often,” said Dan Herbert, a criminal defense attorney who represented former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. “A lot of courts have said the use of deadly force has to be reasonable, first and foremost.”

Shooting someone to keep your car from being stolen would not be considered a reasonable use of force, Herbert said.

“Illinois is not among the states with very liberal laws in regards to defense of property,” said Hugh Mundy, a law professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago John Marshall Law School. “There must be a reasonable belief that his life was in danger to justify the use of deadly force.”

Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim announced murder charges against the five teenagers who were with the boy when he was shot. The state’s felony murder law allows prosecutors to charge accomplices of felonies with murders occurring in the commission of those crimes even if those accomplices didn’t actually kill anyone.

No mention was made of the homeowner being cleared of any wrongdoing.

However, criminal defense attorneys believe that determination will be made following the results of the boy’s autopsy, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

“He could not claim he was acting in self-defense of himself and others if the wounds are in the back,” said defense attorney Phil Nathe.

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