Last July, 23-year-old Dylan Thomas allegedly creeped into a driveway in Everett and tried to steal an outboard motor off a boat parked there. Thomas was caught in the act and strangled to death, and now the property owner could face manslaughter charges for the killing.
The details of the deadly encounter were reported earlier this summer by the Everett Herald. The paper interviewed the homeowner and withheld his name for reasons not explained in their story. He is described as a 67-year-old retired carpenter "with arthritis and two artificial hips."
This man says Thomas was a close friend of his nephew, and he'd recently hired him to do some odd jobs. He immediately noticed items missing from his boat, and a few days later came upon Thomas trying to steal the motor. In the ensuing physical struggle, the man says Thomas punched him repeatedly in the face. "I remember being on the losing end of slinging fists," he said. "...I was taking a real shellacking."
The retiree managed to get his arm around Thomas' neck and wrestle him to the ground. Thomas stopped resisting, and the man left to find something to bind the thief's wrists until police arrived. But when he came back Thomas was back on his feet. They fought again, and Thomas ended up on the pavement with his hands tied together with a length of wire.
When police arrived, Thomas was unresponsive. Paramedics tried to resuscitate him but he died on the scene.The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office reportedly listed the cause of death as asphyxia due to compression of the neck, and the manner of death as homicide.
Snohomish County Sheriffs have referred the case to prosecutors as manslaughter. Kevin Prentiss, a bureau chief with the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, tells Seattle Weekly that there are several instances in which homicide is justifiable under Washington state law, but this might not be one of them.
"If you've got somebody who breaks into a home and that person is confronted. and the home owner is in fear of their life, he has the ability to protect himself and his family," Prentiss says. "That might not be the same case if the person breaks into home and runs out the front door and across the street and that [homeowner] uses deadly force to stop them."
Here's the relevant passage on justifiable homicide from the Revised Code of Washington:
Homicide is also justifiable when committed either:Thomas' death would seem to fall under the second category, as he was (allegedly) attempting to commit a felony upon the retired carpenter's abode. But Prentiss says things aren't so simple. "Just because somebody is standing in someone's driveway does not make it justifiable," he says.
(1) In the lawful defense of the slayer, or his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister, or of any other person in his or her presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or
(2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his or her presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he or she is.
The charging decision will ultimately be in the hands of Snohomish County prosecutors, and the deputy prosecutor assigned to this case is on holiday vacation and thus unavailable to comment. If charges are filed, it won't be until early 2012.