“Shocking” Anti Self Defense Bias

Published by the LearnAboutGuns.com Author on September 28, 2009 at 12:01 am
LearnAboutGuns.com > Gun Related News > “Shocking” Anti Self Defense Bias

In a Valley Independent article entitled “Homicide charge shocker,” writer Jeff Pikulsky provides what I find to be a shockingly sensationalist, biased, and legally deficient report about a self defense shooting case. A summary of the facts, some background on the basic principles of law at issue, and my responses to that anti self defense article are below:

The self defense shooting

According to police, 25 year old James MacFarlane and 25 year old William Eyles conspired to rob Joseph Gallic at his Monongahela, PA home by luring him outside then attacking him.  MacFarlane allegedly went to Gallick’s home at about 2:50 a.m. to lure him out of the house by coming to the door and falsely saying that someone was burglarizing his vehicle. Police say Gallick grabbed his self defense gun and stepped outside to investigate, at which point Eyles, who was waiting in ambush, hit Gallick over the head with a baseball bat. Gallick fired two shots in self defense, fatally wounding Eyles and saving himself from that life threating attack. MacFarlane is said to have fled the scene, and Gallick was treated at a local hospital for his injuries. When police interviewed MacFarlane, he allegedly confessed to the conspiracy to lure Gallick from his home, attack him, and rob him.

The charges against MacFarlane

MacFarlane reportedly faces one count of criminal homicide, one count of criminal attempt, two counts of criminal conspiracy, and one summary charge of criminal mischief.  The criminal complaint reportedly states that the homicide charge was filed because MacFarlane “did conspire to commit a robbery, and assault with another, during which time a co-conspirator was shot and killed by the victim of the robbery.”  No charges were filed against Gallick for his self defense actions.

Why the charges against MacFarlane are reasonable

MacFarlane was charged with homicide in the death of his alleged co-conspirator because of the felony murder rule.  Simply put, this longstanding rule of law makes any participant in a dangerous felony criminally liable for any deaths that occur during or in furtherance of that felony.  This rule rightfully imposes liability upon criminals who choose to commit a dangerous crime that ends up resulting in a death, since those criminals knew that their crime could result in a death, yet chose to commit it anyway.  The felony murder rule ensures that the criminals who plan out and execute a crime that leads to a death are held accountable.

Some states, including PA, apply the felony murder rule against one co-conspirator when another co-conspirator is killed in self defense by the crime victim.  I find myself in complete agreement with this longstanding rule of law.  When two or more criminals set out to commit a crime, they both understand that their victim may kill one of them in self defense.  When one of the co-conspirators is killed in self defense, the fact that the dead criminal appreciated this risk shouldn’t relieve the surviving criminal of liability, since to do so would run contrary to some of the most basic principles of law as well as common sense.  For example, it is well settled that dueling is illegal, and the victor in a dueling match cannot escape liability for the death of the other dueling participant by claiming that the other participant agreed to take the risk of being fatally shot.  Nor can those involved in street racing escape liability for the other racer’s death by claiming that they both undertook the risk of street racing.  Getting back to the felony murder rule, as a matter of policy, the rule also makes sense:  It ensures that the most culpable party (a criminal) is held liable when a death takes place during a felony, and provides an additional deterrent effect against criminals who are considering committing a violent crime.

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My responses to Jeff Pikulsky’s anti self defense article

Below I quote and respond to what I find to be some of the more sensationalist, biased, and legally deficient aspects of Mr. Pikulsky’s anti self defense newspaper article.

Leaving the courtroom Friday, Paul and Laurie MacFarlane were shocked that their son had been charged with homicide in the shooting death of his friend.

The the sensationalism and bias begins in the first sentence of the article.  Mr. MacFarlane was charged with being part of a conspiracy to ambush, violently attack, and rob another man.  Referring to self defense shooting death of his alleged co-conspirator as “the death of his friend” portrays MacFarlane as a victim who lost his friend, rather than an alleged violent criminal whose alleged accomplice was shot in self defense by the victim of that crime.

MacFarlane’s parents argued that their son is being wrongfully charged [and reportedly stated that] “They’re making it look like Cole [MacFarlane] pulled the trigger, and he got shot at,” Paul MacFarlane said. “He’s lucky he’s still alive. He was completely unarmed. He didn’t hurt anybody.”

Here, Pikulsky quotes MacFarlane’s parents.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with quoting the parents of the accused, providing those individuals with a means of broadcasting their factually and legally inaccurate statements, without any rebuttal or clarification, strikes me as unreasonable.  Most people aren’t lawyers, and don’t understand the felony murder rule, making it likely that they will take as truth the ever-so-inaccurate statements that are quoted.  I certainly believe in free speech, but at the same time I believe that newspaper journalists should take it upon themselves to provide as unbiased and objective reports as possible, given their important role in our society.  Effectively turning the newspaper into a publicity agency for the accused strikes me as a breach of that duty.

Moving on to the substance of MacFarlane’s parents’ statements, the law clearly does not require that MacFarlane pull a trigger to be liable for the crime.  In fact, the whole purpose of the felony murder rule is to impose liability upon a person other then one that actually pulled the trigger, for the reasons discussed above.  Note that the imposition of liability upon a person other than the one who complete the overt act is a longstanding principle of law that extends through our legal system.  For example, the getaway driver in a robbery is just as liable as the robbers who enter the bank.  Similarly, the lookout for the arsonist is just as liable as the person who sets the fire.  The rational is that a criminal who serves as lookout or getaway driver is furthering the crime.  Indeed, in cases where one criminal lures another into an ambush, that criminal who performed the luring made the entire crime possible in the first place.  In such situations, the legal system properly imposes liability upon that criminal, who is just as at fault as the person who completed the ambush.

The MacFarlanes said they do not know if Gallick will be charged. “They said the investigation is ongoing,” Laurie MacFarlane said of police. “They’re not saying a whole lot. “I just want to make sure things are fair here. This guy [the victim who fired in self defense] is just walking away, and he needs to know that you just don’t shoot people.”

These statements defy all credulity, and I’m amazed that a newspaper would quote them.  Simply put, Mrs. MacFarlane’s statements do not reflect the law.  Here we have a man who was in his home late at night when a pair of men allegedly conspired to rob him, lured him from his home, waited in ambush, and attacked him with a deadly weapon.  That is about as clear a case of self defense as I can imagine.  Based upon the reported facts, Gallick was entirely within his rights to defend himself with deadly force, and shouldn’t be charged with any crime.  Instead, it seems as though he should receive a commendation and a parade, for successfully defending himself and at the same time also making the community a bit safer.

“He was my friend too,” Paul MacFarlane said. “I don’t think he should have been killed. I’ve had altercations with people in the street, and I’ve never had to shoot them.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an “altercation” is “a noisy heated angry dispute.”  It conjures to mind a situation where two or more people engage in generally mutual exchange of words or possibly blows.  It most certainly does not include a situation where one person is lured out of their home in middle of the night and hit over the head with a baseball bat, by a person who was waiting in ambush.  That situation is an unprovoked deadly threat to the victim’s life, and as discussed above, that victim is legally and morally entitled to use deadly force to stop that attack.

[Paul MacFarlane is further quoted as saying] “Whatever happened to shooting someone in the leg? You get away with anything down here.”

Shooting to wound is almost never appropriate.  Those who are not knowledgeable about guns and human anatomy will suggest that a citizen shoot a criminal in the leg, rather than aiming for the criminal’s chest, so as to avoid killing the criminal – even when the citizen’s life is threatened.  That is bad advice. The only way to reliably stop a violent human right away is to disrupt the brain, spine, heart, or certain other vital organs.  Even severe bullet wounds to the lung(s) generally won’t stop an attacker right away, as there is enough oxygen in the blood stream that they can keep up their attack for about 30 seconds. The law strongly disfavors shooting to wound, and it as often seen as evidence that the citizen was not in reasonable fear of suffering death or grievous bodily harm. Finally, I would note that and any gunshot can be fatal, so it is not possible to truly shoot only to wound.

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Even if, just for the sake of argument, shooting to wound were a viable option, it is just not reasonable to expect a crime victim facing a deadly threat to try and aim for the leg. A leg is a smaller target, which is more difficult to hit than an attacker’s chest.  When the crime victim has adrenaline rushing their body, and they are facing a deadly threat for what may be the first time in their life, one cannot reasonably expect that crime victim to engage in such a marksmanship contest.  This is even more true when the crime victim in question has just suffered a blow to the head from a baseball bat, and is likely disoriented as a result.  It is simply unreasonable to value the life and safety of a violent attacker over their victim, by insisting that victim further risk their own life by trying to avoid harming the attacker when acting in self defense.

Regarding Paul MacFarlane’s statement that the crime victim is “getting away” with shooting his baseball bat wielding attacker, I am yet again amazed that a newspaper would print this gross misstatement without at least providing some sort of rebuttal.  As I’ve discussed at length above, each of us has the legal, moral, and basic human right to defend ourselves against the sort of unprovoked attack that Mr. Gallick suffered.  Mr. Gallick is the true victim here – not the violent criminal he shot in self defense, nor the alleged accomplice who lured Gallick from his home so that the bat wielding attacker could strike.

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Note: Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice.  Legal principles, such as the felony murder rule, are discussed for informational purposes only.  Anyone in need of legal advice is urged to contact an attorney in their area.

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  • Anders

    I think this is the best article I have seen on Learn About Guns.

    I wish we had felony murder rule in Norway. Some time ago, two criminals shot and killed a victim with several shoots from the same gun. The problem was that they shared the gun, they both fired the same gun at the same victim.

    It could not be proved in court which one fire the mortal shot, there for nobody was convicted of murder. Common sense says that any one who deliberate fires a gun at another person does this knowing he might kill the person he is firing upon. So I think they both should have been convicted.

    As reported, Cole James MacFarlane is indeed guilty of murder, he and his partner in crime created a situation where the victim had no choice but to use deadly force in order to stop a criminal attack. If they had stayed at home this would not have happen.

    • macfarlane

      the man was a scum bag drug dealer and the local police new it but chose to over look that because they had it in for mr eyles plus he had no permit for that pistol it was a semi auto pistol that had to be cocked so he was planning on shooting befor he left the saftey of his home

  • No Name

    I think it's ridiculous that you think you have the right to have such a strong opinion on a situation when you don't know the whole story. This is the problem with society. The news is almost always wrong in a situation like this because they fail to get all the details before they write their story. And yet, the public always believes what they read or hear. Mr. Gallic isn't the innocent victim that you portray. He is a drug dealer/addict contributing to the low quality of life in the Mon Valley. The bottom line is that these people are not just good for nothing scum bags. They are human beings with families who care about them very much. Of course Paul and Laurie MacFarlane have the right to defend their son and have their story told in the news papers even though their story may be biased. I think this is something the public needs to understand. What if this was your child? The families of these people know them in a different light than what's being portrayed in the news papers and on TV. Cole MacFarlane and Will Eyels are more than just criminals. I think it's important to humanize these people so that an understanding of the situation is created. We want these people to get help. Why were Cole & Will robbing this guy? I think it's obvious that Mr. MacFarlane and Mr. Eyels didn't understand the magnitude of this situation before they decided to commit the crime. What exactly did Mr. Gallic see coming at him? Do you shoot anything you see coming at you? What if he had shot an innocent person? Did Mr. Gallic know who he was shooting? I think it's pretty clear that Mr. MacFarlane and Mr. Eyels did not intend to kill anybody. Look at the situation for what it is. Mr. MacFarlane and Mr. Eyels made a poor decision to carry out a crime for reasons we still don't know. Mr. Gallic shot and killed a person because he saw something coming at him. Cole Macfarlane watched his friend die because of a bad decision they both made. He now has to live with that for the rest of his life. The families of these people also have to live with it. Where exactly do you and your opinions come in?

  • http://www.learnaboutguns.com LearnAboutGuns.com

    "No Name,"

    The above article and the articles I link to in it already address the points you raised, especially insofar as blaming the victim and having pity for the violent attackers. I encourage you to go back and re-read.

    Whether or not the victim was a good guy or not really isn't relevant. The fact is that each of us, whether a saint or scumbag, has the right to defend ourselves when a pair of violent attacker come to our home, lure us outside, and then attack.

    You say that you believe the attackers didn't intend to kill the victim. That is again not relevant. Violent attacks often end in unplanned deaths. Furthermore, each of us has a right to prevent ourselves from suffering bodily harm – not just death.

    You ask me what if it were my child who was waiting in ambush to launch a violent attack upon a man outside his home. To that I would say that I would raise my child to understand that it is not OK to attack a person like that, and that if they do so they are risking death.

    I would ask you, then, how would you feel if it was your child that was being ambushed during the night be a violent criminal? Would you want your child to risk their life in an attempt to avoid harming their attacker?

    I would urge you and other friends/family members of dead criminals to realized that the dead criminal is at fault, not the victim who defended himself or herself.

  • No Name

    I am in no way trying to dispute fault in this situation. Although, I do believe that intentions are very important. I think it is a very significant fact that Mr. MacFarlane and Mr. Eyels did not intend to kill anyone. Do you have children? If you do I’m sure you understand that they have minds of their own. It seems juvenile to me that you blame the parents in this situation when you have no idea how they raised their children. Not all of us are lucky enough to have parents that want to raise us as upright honest individuals. Some of us are dealt an awful hand at life. I agree that innocent upstanding citizens should have the right to defend themselves; with a gun if necessary. Mr. Gallic should not have been allowed to even purchase weapon having the reputation that he does. If Mr. Gallic did not own a weapon we would have one beaten drug dealer and two criminals behind bars with a chance for rehabilitation. If I was the parent of Mr. Gallic I would understand that he should not own a weapon. I would also advise my son not to sell drugs because usually, when you are a known drug dealer and you help people abuse their habits then it’s only a matter of time before someone tries to come in your home and steal your stash. I also understand that you can only ‘parent’ you child so much. So, if my child was the one being attacked in this particular situation I would probably understand that it was coming to him and not place blame on one person. Nobody in this situation is innocent.

  • http://www.learnaboutguns.com LearnAboutGuns.com

    “No Name,”

    Intent really doesn't matter for several reasons. Firstly, as I've already mentioned, criminals often kill their victims during a violent crime, even when that was not their intention. Blows to the head with a blunt object can often be fatal. It is unreasonable, morally and legally, to expect the crime victim to take that risk. Moreover, even if they "only" intended to beat him with a blunt object and rob him, the victim was still morally and legally right to use deadly force to prevent that.

    I would again encourage you to read the articles I've provided above. I've rebutted each of the points you've brought up already, in much greater detail than I'm prepared to re-type in this comment box.

  • No Name

    Every situation is different. The facts in a situation like this can not be ignored. This was not a law abiding citizen who was randomly attacked by 2 criminals. This was a drug dealer who was lured outside by 2 people who had the intent to rob him. There is more to this situation than just the self defense issue. Despite what you said about attackers killing their victims whether or not they mean to, Intensions matter. Indeed, Intensions do matter.

  • http://www.learnaboutguns.com LearnAboutGuns.com

    “No Name,”

    You're certainly free to hold each of those opinions. However those opinions of yours don't reflect the law, and ignore the basic fact that each of us is entitled to defend ourselves against violent attack.

    I would again encourage you to read the articles I’ve provided above. I’ve rebutted each of the points you’ve brought up already, in much greater detail than I’m prepared to re-type in this comment box.

  • right as rain

    The law is that you are innocent until proven guilty. The law is you have a right to a fair trial. The law is that your peers have a right to know all the facts. You sound like a Lawyer, you already have Mr. MacFarlane trialed without all the facts. The fact is that Mr. Eyels will never get the chance to tell his side of the story because Mr. Gallick took the law into his own hands. Mr. gallick had the choice to call the police instead he chose to grab a gun, cock it ,take the safety off ,leave the safety of his home and take the gun that he legally should not have had, into the street and fire it at something he saw coming at him. after he alledgedly was assaulted. The police should have arrested everyone because they are all on probation. Police are not the law they get paid by tax payers to uphold the law not to twist the law to suit themselves. When the people fear the government it is a dictatorship. When the government fears the people it is a democracy.

  • right as rain

    While i am waiting for a reply from learn about guns.com. I would like to ask a question. What is the law on transferring a handgun to someone without a permit to carry, and also having that same weapon in a residence where someone on probation lives? You see the fact is everyone involved was wrong here. Another fact is this robbery is alledged by the shooter. Mr. Eyels will never be able to tell his side. Maybe he was protecting himself in this case. Are you from the Mon Valley. Mr. Jeff Pikulsky happens to be using his freedom of speech and freedom of the press. They are also in the constitution. This clearly sounds like an attempt to twist the law to suit yourself. Are you the arresting officer?

    • http://www.learnaboutguns.com The LearnAboutGuns.c

      "Right as rain,"

      You confuse self defense with vigilantism. Acting in self defense is not taking the law into one's own hands, but rather a legally and morally permissible use of force to preserve oneself. More on that here: http://www.learnaboutguns.com/2009/01/20/vigilant

      I would encourage you to reread this article and the comments I've already left, as they address the bulk of your arguments.

      You also bring up freedom of the press, and I don't dispute that the newspaper is free to publish the article that it published. By the same token, I'm free to criticize their article. Finally, as I say to everyone who brings up constitutional rights such as free speech: such rights are protected against *governmental* interference. Even if, for the sake of argument, I were actually stopping the newspaper from exercising its freedom of speech, that wouldn't violate the constitution, since I'm a private individual rather than the government.

  • right as rain

    Again, without all the facts your opinion is an just an opinion of a critic.

  • right as rain

    In fact the man was not lured from his home. He went back inside his home , put his pants on, grabbed his gun, took the safety off and cocked the gun. The gun that was not his, kept with a girlfriend whom is a convicted felon on probation. Then went out onto the street. He was not hit in the head with some sort of weapon. He was struck in the right arm. He happens to be right handed. Therefore we can assume that Mr. Eyels may have been trying to protect himself from a being shot at. I am all for gun rights don't get me wrong here, but Mr. gallick should never had possession of any weapon. If he was allowed by law to have a gun it would have been registered in his name. The second reason he should not have had a gun in his home is he has a convicted felon living there. All he had to do if he felt threatened was CALL THE POLICE. Apparently he didnt feel threatened which in turn makes him a murderer. Not a vigilanti. Not a hero. Not self defence. This man had a choice, time to think of what his actions would be. He did take the law into his own hands when he chose to leave the safety of his home and have a confrontation with someone he knew. As the old saying goes " Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

  • unnamed

    In my opinion people like Mr. Gallick is why the gun laws have to be in place. What message are we receiving when it is okay for a drug dealer to take the law into his own hands by using a gun, that is not registered or not registered to him, out in the street and firing it at something. Come on now. I would like to know why he was not arrested. Clearly he has broken quite a few laws regardless of his "self-defense" claim. Who is he working for that he gets away with killing a young man in the street?

  • unnamed

    How many laws did this “victim” break by using an unregistered gun? Who does he work for? Something is just not right about this whole situation. Why is he being protected? This town is to small to cover this one up. Apparently alot of people know this man very well.

  • concerned

    It seems that the state police suspect that everyone involved here were victims. The investigation into the sale of drugs and the question as to why Mr. Gallick did have a gun and why he felt he had to use it ,will be answered soon. It does help to know all the facts in any case! God help you people who believe everything you read and don't have a mind of your own. Bad things do happen to good people.