Burglary case raises self-defence issues

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. 


The scene outside the Savannah home where a resident stopped a burglary suspect. – PHOTO: BRENT FULLER

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  1. It is time that we seriously consider some form of stand your ground law in the Cayman Islands. I am not talking about the type of law that would allow someone to pursue another individual and kill them. I am talking about a sensible law that would allow someone to defend themselves in their home (using deadly force if necessary) when faced with the same type of situation that Mr. Bowen encountered back in 2010.

    We also need laws that allow for residents to obtain concealed carry permits once the necessary criminal background checks and training/certification have been completed.

    I know that many people will not agree with my position on this issue and that many of the people that disagree have never owned a firearm or attended any firearms training. However, a firearm in the hands of a trained individual (with no history of mental illness) is of no threat to anyone.

  2. It’s clear the stand your ground law is needed here. Burglary crimes are never solved here and if the perps are caught 2 months is the maximum they will get. We need to be armed with pepper spray and mace. Law abiding citizens should have a right to defend property, self and family.

  3. I care not to defend the position of any criminal who prey on society, but I have sense enough to understand that a stand your ground law to the extent of applying lethal force is in conflict with a judicial system that refuse to use lethal punishment against a convicted killer.

    How can any court or country say, citizen within a split second, apply your sentence as judge jury and executioner where circumstances regarding protection of your life and property is in question. But the country will spend months evaluating the rights of a confessed killer who raped, killed and burned one of its citizens, only to have him live in prison.. On the other hand if you open my window to steal something I can blast you to smithereens. Yes he had something shiny, and I was scared for my life, after I told him I had a gun and not to move, he moved.

    Sounds like the wild wild West without a hanging judge.

  4. Mack, A firearm in the hands of a trained individual IS a threat to someone, Criminals ! which in my opinion is a good thing. But it seems that the law of the land is more interested in protecting those guys.) If someone breaks into someone home, whatever happens I their own fault not the fault of the homeowner trying to protect his family and possession’s.

  5. I don’t think either one of these incident bear a resemblance to the Zimmerman case in Florida, where he actually perused the person he shot and killed even after the police told him not too. One could have easily said that young Mr Martin was only protecting himself from a stranger following him with a gun.

  6. It hasn’t taken one burglar, slapped with a dull machete and duly being injured, to raise self-defense issues in Cayman;those issues have been there all along.

    Cayman’s laws on self-defense mirrors British laws…as a matter of fact, they are almost identical and applied as such.

    MPs in Britain have just recently called for more protection in the law for citizens defending themselves in their homes, although it is the standard that each case is viewed on its own merits.

    The law allows the use of reasonable force in defending oneself from a perceived threat…meaning it is the defender’s discretion of what threat he/she is facing when using this ‘reasonable’ force.

    In the cold light of a court room, it is up to a judge and jury to determine the mind of the defender at the time and if the force used was justified and reasonable.

    In the case of trained individuals such as military personnell, police officers and skilled martial artists, the standard of control expected would be different from the ordinary individual.

    Getting slapped with a machete while coming through a houseowner’s window is as reasonable and merciful as this burglar could expect.

    Some of us would say he is very lucky !

  7. What has been the question, both in Britain and Cayman, is whether a defender should be charged with an offense after having used force to defend themselves and have injured an attacker in the process.

    The general standard being that if the force used was enough to stop an attack and allow a defender to escape harm, then anything beyond that MIGHT be determined unreasonable; that is for the police and prosecutors to decide.

    An attacker being injured in an incident does not necessarily determine the use of unreasonable force.

    What the law does not allow is punishment and revenge.

    If this house owner had caught this burgler trapped in his window and after initially striking him with the machete to stop his entry, then continued to chop and attack him, that would definitely result in some charge or another, either of ABH, GBH, wounding or attempted murder.

    On the face of things, this homeowner should have nothing to worry about from the police or prosecutors.