When a homeowner shoots and kills and intruder on his or her property, the story is usually considered newsworthy. When the homeowner is an 18-year-old mother of a 3-month-old, a widow whose husband died of cancer less than a week before, the story grabs international headlines.
The story of Sarah McKinley of Blanchard, Oklahoma, has been featured on CBS News, The Huffington Post, The New York Daily News, and even the BBC. Even former Alaska governor and Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has weighed in on the story, saying of McKinley, "I'm all in favor of girls with guns who know their purpose." The events unfolded around 2:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve, when the teen mother called 911 and told the dispatcher that someone was trying to break into her house.
She had barricaded the door with a couch, but the intruder continued to attempt to gain access to her home. Whispering, McKinley asked the dispatcher, "I've got two guns in my hand. Is it okay to shoot him if he comes in the door?" In the released 911 tape, the dispatcher responds, ""Well, you have to do whatever you can do to protect yourself.
I can't tell you that you can do that, but you have to do what you have to do to protect your baby." It took police approximately twenty minutes to arrive at the scene, and by that time, Justin Shane Martin, 24, was slumped dead over the couch, clutching a knife in his hand. An accomplice had fled the scene. Later, the alleged accomplice, Dustin Louis Stewart, 29, turned himself in to authorities.
Prosecutors say McKinley was clearly acting in self defense and will not be charged with any crime. Oklahoma's "Make My Day" law, officially the Castle Doctrine, allows the use of deadly force for the protection of one's home and any innocent people legally within the home from a violent attack or any intrusion which may turn violent.
An 18-year-old girl protecting her 3-month-old son from a knife-wielding intruder certainly seems to fit the stipulations of the Make My Day law. Although McKinley will not face criminal charges, Martin's alleged accomplice faces a first degree murder charge.
Under Oklahoma law, if a death occurs during the commission of a felony, such as first-degree burglary in this instance, anyone involved in the crime may be charged with the murder. Though Dustin Stewart fled the scene and called 911 shortly after the shooting, he has been charged with first degree murder as the alleged accomplice of the fatally wounded Martin.
However, prosecutors will have to prove that Stewart was actually Martin's accomplice in the break-in. Stewart's Oklahoma defense attorney may point to Stewart's 911 call as evidence of his innocence. Stewart called 911 shortly after hearing gunfire. He told the dispatcher, "My name is Dusty Stewart, and I think it is my friend that got shot." He allegedly told the dispatcher, "I don't know what he was trying to do. I stood at the fence and told him to come on and I don't know what he did." However, court documents show that Stewart later told police that he and Martin had taken painkillers before going to McKinley's home.
He is reported to have told investigators that Martin knew that McKinley's husband had recently died of cancer, and that he assumed there would be painkillers in the home, so he devised a plan to burglarize the home and steal the painkillers. Perhaps, in light of this statement, Stewart's Oklahoma criminal lawyer will use his client's cooperation in an attempt to gain leniency in sentencing. Dusty Stewart was released on bail with a preliminary hearing set for May.
At the time of this writing, Stewart's Oklahoma defense lawyer has not responded to media requests for a statement about this high profile case.