It seems like every day we are assaulted with news of a killing/murder. But we can learn important lessons from these incidents.
The Akron Beacon Journal reports on March 20 2017 William Knight shot and killed Keith Johnson. The conflict started over what was later identified as a stolen dirt bike.
While I’m writing this the investigation is still ongoing. There was just an editorial in the same paper and it is still too early to know if Mr. Knight was justified or not. Everything that follows is gleaned from the ABJ, which under the best of conditions is a third hand source and important details are missed. Still there are a few lessons we can learn.
Before we start, let’s remember I’m not a lawyer and these are my opinion.
Background to death
Knight’s son-in-law believed he had found an internet ad selling his stolen dirt bike and arranged for a meeting. It had been arranged that a police officer would accompany them, but at the last moment the officer was unable to attend. Knight, with his daughter and her husband, decided to keep the meeting, probable fearing the bike would be sold and lost to them.
Loading the hand basket
Knight’s daughter contact 9-1-1 when she felt the meeting was escalating towards violence. It is never a mistake to get the professional moving. The presence of police often stabilizes conflicts and at the very least, helps determine who started out as the good guys. After all, who calls the police, good guys or bad guys?
At some point in the meeting Mr. Johnson attempted to drive away on the dirt bike and the son-in-law grabbed the dirt bike in an attempt to restrain Johnson. Things went to hell at this point.
The trip to hell in a hand basket
Knight drew his weapon and shot Johnson. The daughter tells the 9-1-1 dispatcher her dad just shot someone. Whatever the daughter said it should have been more along the lines of: “OH MY GOD! My dad was just forced to shoot someone in self-defense. Send help. We need the EMS and the police.”
Maybe even better would have been: “OH MY GOD! We need police and EMS’s right away!”
Yes, it’s a lot to remember, but if 9-1-1 is functioning properly, it’s recording everything you say. Make sure you don’t create problem with your words. Yes, your attorney can explain away poorly selected words as the shocked, confused statement of a person terrified by what she was forced to witness, but why complicate your life. It’s going to get a lot more complicated.
Knight took the cell phone from his daughter and spoke directly to the dispatcher. This is where things take an even worse turn for Knight. Talking directly to the dispatcher, Knight attempted to explain the situation. Here my understanding of the subtext. Under stress and shock of being forced to commit an act abhorrent to normal people, many will suffer from logorrhea. It’s from the Greek meaning an outpouring of words.
Knight told the dispatcher he fired his gun to protect his family and he had no choice. We don’t really know if that’s true. It seems reasonable that if the son-in-law let go of the bike, Johnson would have driven away. During the trial Knight’s attorney will have to prove that Johnson would have driven over someone, or dragged someone behind causing grave or fatal bodily harm and such harm would have been unavoidable. The dirt bike gives him a disparity of force, but did Johnson act in a manner what would imply he was about to apply this force? We’ll see what the court case produces. If Knight would not have spoken to the dispatcher and discussed it instead with his lawyer, perhaps better words could have been chosen to explain his actions.
Knight continues to talk, telling the dispatcher it’s dark and he’s not sure where he shot Johnson, but he thinks it’s in the chest. It’s later discovered Johnson was shot in the head. Not knowing what you shot at is almost a textbook definition of reckless and indifference to human suffering. As far as Knight knew, the bullet could have been heading at his son-in-law, an occupied dwelling or the person he intended to shoot. Again, the attorney will have to show how this wasn’t reckless, but the words of a man repulsed by being forced to take human life now trying to mitigate the consequences to his subconscious.
Knight should have told the dispatcher, “He forced me to defend my family. We need police and EMS.”
I would have moved everyone back, asked if anyone else was hurt, asked other people to call 911 and kept the gun pointed in a safe direction. When the police arrived I recommend you put the gun on the ground and stand on it with your hands up. Follow their instructions to the letter.
At least that is what I hope to do on what could be the worst day of my life.
A Pause in Free Fall
A man is dead. I don’t know if Johnson has children. We know he has a girlfriend and family. They will never see him again. Knight has to live with the fact he killed someone over a $4000 toy. He’s altered his relationship to everyone he knows and possibly destroyed his daughter’s marriage.
I’d never say you shouldn’t try to retain or recover you property, but really is it worth a bad outcome? And this is a bad outcome for Knight.
He’s being held on a half million dollar bond. That means he has to give a bail bondsman 50 thousand non-refundable dollars (!!!!) or come up with a 500 thousand in cash or real property to get out. I’m sure when he finds a lawyer the attorney will tell him to sell his house so he can pay the legal fees.
All this just to recover a $4000 toy.
I’ll have more when it goes to trial.