Does Killing a 72-Year-Old Man with Alzheimer’s Qualify for “Stand Your Ground”?

Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Ronald Westbrook

“Stand Your Ground” laws have again come under scrutiny, this time in Georgia, where the controversial statute may be used to defend a homeowner who shot to death an elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease.


Joe Hendrix has admitted to killing Ronald Westbrook, a 72-year-old Air Force veteran, who wandered into Hendrix’s backyard in the early hours of November 27.


Westbrook’s family said the victim suffered from Alzheimer’s for two years. He reportedly left his home around midnight to walk his two dogs and pick up his mail, and apparently got lost. Dressed lightly in freezing, 20-degree weather, Westbrook walked 2.6 miles over the course of four hours before approaching a house belonging to Hendrix’s fiancée, which was in a neighborhood where Westbrook once lived and the only one at the end of a cul-de-sac that had the porch light on.


It was about 4 am when Westbrook walked up to the front door, knocked and tried unsuccessfully to enter. He then walked towards the back of the house.


Hendrix went outside armed with a handgun, and called out to Westbrook, who did not respond, but did approach Hendrix. That’s when Hendrix opened fire four times, killing Westbrook, who was found by police clutching some mail.


It is believed that Westbrook was disoriented and suffering from exhaustion when he stopped at Hendrix’s house.


“In my personal opinion, I believe that [Hendrix] should have stayed inside the house,” Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “Did he violate any laws by exiting the house? No.”


State and local prosecutors are still deciding whether Georgia’s stand-your-ground law applies to Hendrix. Stand-your-ground laws, based on the 17th century “Castle Doctrine” that allows a person to use deadly force in one’s home, expands this right to places outside the home.


Georgia is one of more than 20 states that have “Stand Your Ground” laws, including Florida, where the Trayvon Martin case sparked a national debate over them.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Another Tragic Test for 'Stand Your Ground' Laws, This Time in Georgia (by Patrik Jonsson, Christian Science Monitor)

Man Shoots, Kills Elderly Man with Alzheimer’s at Walker County, Ga., Home (Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Florida Court Suggests African-Americans May Have Right to “Stand Your Ground” Defense Too (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Are “Stand Your Ground” Laws Warped to Favor White People? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Recent “Stand Your Ground” Laws Extend Justifiable Home Protection Violence into the Streets (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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