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Feature Stories

Self Defense or Murder?

From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 16

By Steve Propes

The recent well-publicized shooting of an alleged burglar by the victim created a unique intersection of two controversial legal principles, that of the so-called castle doctrine and the offense of capital murder.

It all began on the 3900 block of Country Club Drive on Wednesday, July 23 at about 8:55 p.m., when police responded to a shots-fired call.

Police learned that homeowner Tom Greer, 80, walked in as 28-year-old Andrea Miller and 26-year-old Gus Adams of Long Beach were allegedly burglarizing his home and was immediately assaulted. Miller allegedly beat him while Adams tried to break into Greer’s safe. Miller stopped hitting Greer to assist Adams with the safe.

Greer retrieved a gun and confronted the robbers while they were still inside the home and opened fire but did not hit anyone. Miller and Adams grabbed some items and fled the home.

Greer followed outside, still firing. Greer stated Miller said she was pregnant and asked Greer not to fire, but he shot her twice in the back anyway and she died in an alley. Adams managed to escape.

Greer said he believed Miller and Adams were responsible for two reported and one unreported burglaries to his home and feared the culprits might return.

Gus Adams is being held on charges of murder and residential robbery, with bail set at $1,025,500, which represents one of the legal concepts, that of felony murder. Gus Adams mother, Ruby Adams, 49, was also arrested and charged as a lookout and is being held at $175,000 bail. Both Gus and Ruby Adams will be arraigned on August 11. An autopsy determined Miller was not pregnant.

According to attorney Michael Lindley, the concept under which Adams is charged “is the felony murder rule,” which applies to “a dangerous crime, rape, burglary, robbery and those crimes that are inherently dangerous, and cause great bodily injury or death, that person can be charged in the injury or death.” Thus, as Adams was charged with robbery and Miller’s death occurred during that robbery, the felony murder rule kicked in.

The other concept is the so-called castle doctrine, which covers using force for protection. Bixby Knolls resident John Deats, who lives about three blocks from the crime scene has some experience with the law in two states. “California does not have the castle doctrine,” said Deats. “They have freedoms in Georgia that we don’t have here. If it happened in Georgia, he’d be covered by the castle doctrine; but we’re in California.”

“Your home is your castle, that used to be the law,” said Lindley. “Our criminal law professor said, ‘if you shoot someone, you should drag them back inside’.” In California, the law has evolved, so it’s not an absolute right to shoot someone in the back.

She was fleeing, you can shoot a fleeing felon if your believe they’re dangerous, that would be a complete defense.” Therefore, prosecuting authorities must decide whether Greer acted in self defense or in aggression, which doesn’t give him a right to shoot.

“There has been a rash of burglaries, I’m thinking that’s why he was prepared,” Deats continued. “People are afraid, but most of the people I listen to think Greer did the right thing. I found the people who in the past who’ve had some negative feelings about gun usage are not saying much since this neighborhood is getting beaten up with burglaries in the past year.”

A resident who lives on Pacific Avenue near the 405 observed, “Some people think people over here are so rich. The Blue Line is at Wardlow and Pacific Place, scumbags come from other areas, get off and get back on the Blue Line.

“It ‘s not what Greer did, it’s what he said,” said Deats. “He should have lawyered up, and kept his mouth shut.” According to a police spokesperson, “there was no previous relationship between Andrea Miller and the homeowner.”

“A lot of people think those two individuals are responsible for many if not all the burglaries in the area,” said Deats. “This neighborhood has gotten beat up for the last year and a half. I’m glad she wasn’t pregnant.”

Lindley stated that if Miller had been pregnant, “That would be like killing a baby. If she said ‘I’m having a baby,’ some might argue wrongdoing, but now that’s a factual impossibility. It might show state of mind if he shot a woman who claimed pregnancy.”

Asked if Greer might face a civil suit, Lindley stated, “Family members could sue for wrongful death. Since one family member was directly involved, he could sue, but the older guy would argue you assumed the risk. You came into my house, doing a dangerous thing, you’re barred from recovery.”