Legal expert believes homeowner will be cleared for shooting at trespasser
Former homicide prosecutor turned local defense attorney Ted Sandberg does say this is far from an open and shut case.
FARGO — Court documents say 58-year-old Joseph Larson shot at 41-year-old James Mayerhofer after he says Mayerhofer came onto his property and was trying to run him down with his car.
His attorney said Larson "feared for his life."
North Dakota's current stand-your-ground laws it gives people the right to protect their life and property.
In court papers, Larson admitted he went outside his home to confront the trespasser. One of the big questions that has to be answered is did he do that with a gun?
"(Whether) indeed this individual was being a nuisance on his property and causing -- at least -- concern for his (the homeowner's) physical safety, or whether this guy was just parked in the trees and this homeowner overreacted," said Ted Sandberg with the law firm of Olson, Juntunen & Sandberg. "That's what this case will come down to."
Another big part of the law is weather the homeowner retreated. Before asking for a lawyer, Larson said Mayerhofer walked toward him at first before getting into his car and driving toward him. Larson also claims he was "hustling" toward his home when he fired five or six shots at the car, saying Mayerhofer was "trying to run him down."
Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner told WDAY News the distance between Larson and the car is one of the key questions they are still trying to answer.
"There might be a question about whether he completed his retreat," Sandberg said. "Maybe if he had run into the house, was the guy in the car going to harm him?"
What prosecutors also need to consider is how much of a threat Mayerhofer was when he initially drove onto the property. Owners have the right to protect their property from felony conduct, but trespassing is not a felony.
"The prosecutor is certainly going to want to explore where that line is, because if you could shoot someone for just trespassing on your property that may by also a very dangerous precedent," said Sandberg.
Based on what he has read in the five-page police report, Sandberg thinks Larson will be cleared of any wrongdoing. Deputies noted Larson was visibly shaken up by the events to the point where officers kept offering to call him an ambulance to be checked out.
"In think if you have to ask who escalated the situation, the driver began and escalated this situation the entire time," Sandberg said. "In my personal opinion, and my legal opinion, I don't think the homeowner had a whole lot of other choices."
The state legislature just tweaked North Dakota's stand your ground law, eliminating the retreat requirement. That doesn't go into effect until August. Prosecutors are exploring whether the law could be retroactive to this case, and say that could be part of their decision.