New “Stand Your Ground” law cited as basis for Columbia shooting

Columbia resident Karl Henson was arrested last month after shooting a man in the back who tried to steal his cellphone, police say.
Maneater File Photo

Missouri’s new “Stand Your Ground” law has been been invoked as the basis for a shooting in Columbia, where the accused believed the statute permitted him to shoot a fleeing thief.

Senate Bill 656 went into effect Jan. 1 after former Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto was overturned last fall. This law removed the “duty to retreat” provision and allows citizens to use deadly force whenever they feel reasonably threatened without retreating first.

“You used to have a duty to retreat,” criminal defense attorney John Picerno told KSHB news last September. “It's one of the few laws in Missouri that's actually very good for the citizens. Not only does it provide the accused with those particular rights but it places the burden on the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not act in lawful self-defense."

But Columbia resident Karl Henson was arrested for first-degree felony assault after allegedly shooting at a man who apparently tried to steal his cellphone.

“The only reason I thought it was okay to shoot at him while he was running away was because of what happened with the new year on the law change,” Henson said, according to the probable cause statement for the Jan. 23 incident. Henson nonfatally shot the man six or seven times in the back.

MU School of Law professor Frank Bowman, a former criminal defense lawyer, said Henson misunderstood the many provisions of the new statute.

“I would say this person has an erroneous understanding of what the law says,” Bowman said. “The [shooting victim] was committing a felony, but you can’t use deadly force because they’re leaving the commission of a non-forcible felony like stealing.”

Forcible felonies, Bowman explained, include crimes like murder, armed robbery and assault. Regarding the bill as a whole, Bowman said he was opposed to it and considered it to be “macho posturing” by Missouri legislators.

“It’s bad on a number of levels,” Bowman said. “One of them is that, to the extent that people misunderstand it, those kinds of misunderstandings can produce killings which shouldn’t happen. [The law] ought to discourage folks from using deadly force unless it is absolutely necessary.”

Edited by Madi McVan |

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