James Lowell Schlenkert, 27, was at an ATM outside a Chase bank location in Indianapolis in September when he claims that acquaintance Jason Pedro, 24, attempted to rob him.
Schlenkert got his hands on a weapon—details are rather sketchy on whether he had his own gun or wrestled one away from Pedro— and then shot and killed the attempted robber.
Officer at the IMPD station across the street ran over and initially arrested Schlenkert, but released him that night when surveillance video showed what they initially thought was a case of self defense.
A grand jury further investigating the shooting got a much wider picture of events, and felt that that the killing wasn’t justified.
They have now charged Schlenkert with voluntary manslaughter.
While Indiana law prevents grand jury evidence from being released, It isn’t hard to see how the shooting may have evolved from a justifiable shelf-defense case into felony homicide.
Marion County Chief Deputy Coroner Alfie Ballew said Pedro’s death was a homicide caused by multiple gunshots to the head. She said she did not have any additional information about whether Pedro was shot elsewhere or specifically how many times he was shot.
Pedro’s mother, Cynthia Pedro, told The Indianapolis Star she was happy about the indictment, though she believes Schlenkert should be charged with murder.
Cynthia Pedro said prosecutors told her that her son tried to rob Schlenkert but got out of the pickup truck and ran once Schlenkert got a hold of a gun. Pedro was shot several times as he ran, his mother said, eventually falling to the ground.
Once on the ground, Cynthia Pedro said her son was shot three more times in the head.
“Once that man had possession of that gun,” she said, “it no longer became self-defense.”
Pedro’s mother is neither a disinterested party nor a lawyer, but she isn’t far wrong.
While Pedro was apparently the aggressor in the initial crime, at some point in the confrontation Schlenkert gained control of a firearm and Pedro attempted to flee.
If Pedro lacked a weapon at this point and was fleeing, Schlenkert does not have a legal right to fire upon him. If Mrs. Pedro is correct, and Schlenkert shot Pedro as he was running away, then he was not shooting in self-defense.
If Pedro went down and then Schlenkert fired three times into his head while he was on the ground, he’s arguably strayed into murder territory.
So what does this mean for us?
It means that as gun owners, we need to understand precisely where lawful self-defense ends, and where criminal action with a firearm begins.
Far too many times we’ve heard blustery Internet-tough gunslingers promise that if they are ever in that situation, they’ll pull their Tauri out of a shapeless Uncle Mike’s clip-on holster and “shoot till he’s dead,” because, they argue knowingly, “dead men can’t testify against you.”
Maybe James Lowell Schlenkert was of this same idiotic mindset, and thought that after shooting the fleeing robber in the back, that three shots to the head to finish him would prevent Pedro from testifying against him.
Instead, Schlenkert’s decision to shoot to kill Pedro has led to charges of voluntary manslaughter, which could (and arguably should) presumably be upgraded to murder for what sounds like the calculated execution of a wounded and helpless man.
Don’t be a Schlenkert.
Your decision to carry a firearm for self-defense is a very serious one, with potentially life-changing ramifications. It is your duty to know the law, and to know that you are “shooting to live” in a self-defense situation. You do not have a right to “shoot to kill.” You may only fire as many shots as it takes to stop the threat, even if that means that the threat ends without a shot being fired because the bad guy saw the weapon and decided to flee.