Police arrest suspect after machete chop
Another incident involving the injury of a criminal suspect during a break-in attempt has raised questions about just how far Cayman Islands residents can go in protecting their homes and families from intruders.
In the latest case, a burglary suspect who suffered head injuries during a break-in at a Savannah-area house last week was taken to Cayman Islands Hospital after turning himself in to police Sunday night. He received treatment for his injuries and was later transported to a holding cell at the George Town police station.
The suspect was struck in the head with a machete on Thursday, 25 July during what police described as a daytime break-in attempt on Sandy Ground Road.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service said the man was chopped as the resident saw the suspect climbing through a first-floor window.
Despite the injury, police said the suspect left the house on foot. He was later spotted in the Pedro Castle area on Shamrock Road near the Texaco gas station and Wendy’s restaurant across the street from the Countryside Shopping Village.
According to the resident who admitted to striking the suspect, the would-be burglar broke into the home just before noon, apparently not expecting anyone to be there.
“[The machete] cut him to the head, straight across, deep enough for you to see it,” the man said, asking that the newspaper not reveal his name to protect him from retaliation.
Police reported that the injured burglar was among three men involved in the incident. Officers said the other two waited outside in a vehicle, a green Honda Integra, while the third man attempted to enter the home. No other arrests were reported by press time.
Last Thursday’s incident does bear similarities to another break-in attempt from July 2010 at a George Town home where the suspect was shot and killed by a homeowner.
No charges were ever filed in the death of Harryton [Harrington] Rivers, 29, and his death was ruled to have occurred “by misadventure” during a coroner’s inquest review.
According to court testimony, the homeowner involved in the shooting, Leon Bowen, then 65, said he and his wife heard loud noises during the early morning hours of 22 July, 2010, which caused him to rise from his bed twice during the night. On the second time, Mr. Bowen said he jumped out of bed, got the key to his gun case, took out the gun and loaded it. He said he opened the door to the back porch and saw the blinds pushed up on a window near the back door. There was a man partly in the window stretching his hand to open the door. “I shouted at him, ‘What you doing in my house?’, he told the coroner’s jury.
“During that time I had my gun in my right hand,” Mr. Bowen said. “He turned toward me. He has a shiny object, he moves toward me. During that time I was terrified. I wanted to stop him from coming towards me with his hand reached out. I fire one shot. I was terrified he was going to harm me. I was defending myself and my wife. He stumbled back through the window and shout out, ‘The man shoot me, he shoot me.’”
Mr. Bowen said he ran back to his bedroom after seeing the man go around the house. He drew the drape to the back window and saw a man standing in the yard next door; he had on a mask covering his face. Mr. Bowen said his wife was too nervous to call 911, so he made the call.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service declined to comment on any specific case. A police service spokesperson said: “In general terms, the law provides for people to use reasonable force to defend themselves, based on the circumstances which present themselves at the time.”
Local defence attorney Lloyd Samson of the firm Samson and McGrath said that such cases are generally determined by the common law. Mr. Samson said self-defence is an appropriate defence in assault cases and even murder, but it would depend on the specific circumstances of the situation.
In the case of Mr. Bowen, Mr. Samson said he was obviously “entitled to defend himself”.
“Self-defence provides an outright defence to [criminal] matters,” Mr. Samson said.
The Cayman Islands Penal Code [2010 Revision] also allows for “provocation” to be taken into account in murder cases to reduce a sentence or lessen a murder charge to manslaughter.
Cayman has no “stand your ground” or “castle” laws similar to the US states of Florida and Texas. Those laws provide absolute protection for individuals defending themselves on their own property, even – in certain circumstances – outside their dwelling place.
The “stand your ground law” in Florida has led to a nationwide debate following the death of Trayvon Martin, who was shot by George Zimmerman in what was described as an act of self-defence. The Florida version of the law – that allows deadly force even in circumstances where a person might safely leave the confrontation – was not used in Mr. Zimmerman’s defence, but it was included in instructions to the jury that acquitted Mr. Zimmerman.
By contract, Texas’s “castle doctrine” requires a person to leave the place of an altercation if that can be done safely.