- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Man shot, killed one of two trying to break in to steal prescription medication
By KATIE FITZPATRICK
The Calvert County State’s Attorney’s Office has declined to prosecute a Harlequin Court homeowner who on March 31 shot and killed one of two people trying to break into his home to steal prescription medication.
“A Calvert County homeowner was terrorized and a young man lost his life,” Calvert County State’s Attorney Laura Martin (R) said Friday. “That should open our eyes to the catastrophic effects that the prescription drug problem has had in our county.”
The opinion issued Thursday by Martin states that an investigation was launched to “review potential charges against a homeowner, Mr. West Taylor,” regarding the attempted armed robbery at his Huntingtown home.
“After a careful review of the investigation and the facts and circumstances surrounding the events, the State would decline such a prosecution as the shooting by the homeowner was legally justified,” the opinion states.
According to the opinion, at about 10:15 p.m. Easter Sunday, March 31, West Helen Taylor III, 63, a retired Metropolitan Police Department lieutenant, and his wife were watching television in their bedroom when they “heard a series of loud bangs at their front door.” Taylor retrieved his Walther .380 handgun, which he kept loaded, and went downstairs, the opinion states.
“As [Taylor] moved downstairs, he thought the banging might be a neighbor, a woman whose husband had recently had a heart episode who was coming over for help as she had in the past,” the report states.
Taylor could only see a silhouette through the frosted glass of his front door, so he “moved the gun behind his back, not wanting to frighten his neighbor if it was her,” and opened the door, the report states. Two people dressed in dark jackets with hoods and masks that covered their faces were standing on the porch, the report states, and one person raised a baseball bat at him while another shouted, “All right mother-[expletive]!” Both people walked toward Taylor, causing him to step back into his hallway.
“Fearing for his life and that of his wife inside the home, Mr. Taylor pulled his handgun to the front of him and fired, striking the intruder in front of him,” Martin wrote in the opinion.
The two suspects turned and ran down the driveway, so Taylor fired his gun again, according to the report. His weapon ran out of ammunition, the opinion states, so he retrieved his Glock 9 mm, which he also keeps loaded, from the closet adjacent to the stairwell inside his home, and then went back outside. He saw one person “collapsed on the front lawn,” went over “to cover him” and heard a car start, the report states. The car was driving back toward Taylor, so he “fired at the vehicle several times” before it drove away.
“Believing that the driver was going to strike him with the car … he then fired at the vehicle,” the opinion states. “This action had the desired effect of having the intruder drive off.”
Law enforcement responded to the home, where they found Kevin Wayne Chapman, 38, of Lusby lying next to the driveway. Police said he was dead, having suffered several gunshot wounds. Chapman’s body was taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore for an autopsy.
According to the opinion, Chapman died from four gunshot wounds — one to his left chest, two to his left arm and one “graze wound” to his left, lower chest — and the manner of death was ruled a homicide.
“It should be noted that the term ‘homicide’ in connection with a Medical Examiner’s Report deals with the medical (non-legal definition) of death at the hands of another,” the opinion states.
A “large caliber, copper jacketed projectile” was recovered from Chapman’s left chest, according to the report. At the scene, officials recovered five cartridge casings that had come from the .380 handgun and three cartridge casings that had come from the 9 mm. A spent projectile was also located in the street, the report states.
Martin, in the opinion, wrote, “While some individuals may be concerned with the number of shots fired, law enforcement officers are trained to fire until the threat is neutralized. It is not unusual for officers to fire until their magazine capacity is completely emptied.”
Self-defense requires that a person actually believe he or another was in immediate and imminent danger of bodily harm; the person’s belief was reasonable; and the person used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend himself, the opinion states. Deadly force is defined as the amount of force reasonably calculated to cause death or serious bodily harm, the opinion states.
“It is the State’s opinion that the use of deadly force by Mr. Taylor was justified given the circumstances with which he was presented,” Martin wrote. “He was confronted on his front porch by two larger individuals, dressed in dark clothing, hoodies and masks. One … carried a weapon — a baseball bat — and raised it in a threatening manner.”
According to the opinion, in most circumstances, before using deadly force, a person is required to “make all reasonable efforts to retreat,” but this requirement does not apply when the incident occurs at a person’s home. Retreat “not only would not be advisable given the circumstances,” the report states, but “it is not legally necessary.”
The right to use deadly force comes from an honest and reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily harm and/or an honest and reasonable belief of an imminent felony, the report states.
“The force used by Mr. Taylor was, indeed, reasonable given that he was outnumbered by individuals who were larger than he and armed, at least, with a baseball bat,” Martin wrote in the opinion.
The toxicology report also showed Chapman did not have any narcotics in his system, but his blood alcohol level was .16 to .21, according to the opinion.
After police identified Chapman through his fingerprints, they discovered April Lynn Stewart, 39, of Lusby was his girlfriend and the couple was living in the 15000 block of Running Fox Circle. At the house, police saw a gold Toyota Camry parked out front with a bullet hole in the right rear passenger door; the right rear tire was flat, and the left front tire had been replaced with a spare.
A search and seizure warrant was authorized and executed April 1 at the home, where police found Stewart inside. Police asked Stewart who was with Chapman during the attempted burglary, and she allegedly “indicated she was the individual with him,” the report states.
Stewart was taken to the sheriff’s office and, after allegedly waiving her Miranda rights, told police she and Chapman went to the Harlequin Court home to “commit a robbery,” according to the opinion. Stewart told law enforcement Chapman knew the homeowners because he worked for a Prince Frederick-based pest extermination company in the past and had, while in the house, “taken a couple of pills from the container.” Chapman had been “fiending,” the report states, which is “slang for experiencing a strong need/craving to get high,” so “the plan was to overpower the elderly couple and take the prescription medications and anything else of value that they could find.”
Police said they found a bruise on Stewart’s back, which she allegedly indicated was from a possible bullet that hit her.
“Should Mr. Taylor have simply shut his front door after the initial confrontation, contact the police, and not continue onto the front lawn? Perhaps. However, the law did not require him to do so,” Martin wrote in the report. “… Until he could be absolutely certain the threat had been contained, the law allows him to pursue his assailants until the threat to him, or other family members and his property is neutralized.”
Court case Law v. State notes that if necessary, a person “may even pursue the assailant until he finds himself or his property out of danger…” Martin states in the opinion.
“Although one is not obliged to retreat and may even pursue the assailant until he finds himself or his property out of danger, this will not justify a person’s firing upon everyone who forcibly enters his house, even at night,” the opinion states. “The taking of life is not justified unless unavoidable. The State finds that in this case the taking of Mr. Chapman’s life was unavoidable given the circumstances that presented themselves to Mr. Taylor.”
Stewart was arrested and later indicted in May and charged with armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and second-degree assault.
A pretrial for Stewart is scheduled in Calvert County Circuit Court at 9 a.m. Aug. 5.