Reality generally does not provide the sort of parallel situations that would satisfy the rigors of social science. However, let's go to Alabama for a shooting case from April 15 with many similarities to the Trayvon Martin shooting.
A local newspaper is covering the story diligently; their index is here.
BAY MINETTE, Alabama -- Men at a fish camp on Gravine Island shouted and fired warning shots to stop intruders captured in their spotlight during what their lawyer described as an early Sunday morning break-in at a neighboring camp.
The five-minute encounter with the four teens has led to nightmarish consequences, according to the lawyer, Tom Dassinger of Daphne.
One of the four teens, Summer Moody, is a blond girl's volleyball star. She was shot in the head by either a .22 or a .17 caliber rifle and remains in critical condition with a grim prognosis.
The three men who did the shooting have been questioned but not arrested. Two have had previous run-ins with the law. Their race is not mentioned, but I am guessing white, based on I don't know what.
Before we dive into more details, let's make a few points almost at random:
1 - Blond women are normally media catnip, at least when they encounter trouble in Aruba.
2 - It took three weeks for the Trayvon Martin story to break nationally with the release of the 911 tapes; this story may yet find its legs.
3 - Weighing against this story: Zimmerman had a pistol and a concealed carry permit; the weapon used here was a rifle. Gun controllers don't have sporting rifles on their rader.
4 - Alabama does have something like the castle doctrine for self-defense, so the NY Times can inveigh against that. However, these shooting fools were defending their neighbors property, so their legal stand is a bit more dubious (sorry, that is in the details).
5 - As to the notion from Florida that the shooter would have been jailed on Day One if Martin had been a white teenager and Zimmerman a black shooter: the Alabama case seems to provide at least a half-answer, since the shooters haven't been jailed. Yet.
6 - Unlike Trayvon Martin, the teens here were pretty clearly guilty of something. The shooters had probable cause to investigate, whereas Zimmerman's initial interest in Martin is problematic (but not inexplicable; the community had had a rash of break-ins and Martin may have been skipping under covered patios to avoid the rain.)
The details may be troublesome for anyone with a blood pressure problem; this comes from an attorney for the shooters:
On Sunday, in the early morning darkness, the [three] couples who had gone there for the weekend were asleep in their camp house when the generator malfunctioned, shutting off the air conditioning, according to Dassinger.
"Someone got up to fix it, and it happened again, so things were quiet while they were working on it and someone heard a boat motor. Later they heard crashes and people talking. So eventually the men got in a boat and went over," he said.
Dassinger said that the three men had a spotlight, a .22-caliber rifle and a .17-caliber rifle. When they shined the light toward the camp where the noises were coming from, "they saw what they thought were grown men that turned out to be teenagers," he said.
The men yelled at the intruders to stop, but they scattered instead. The men then fired two warning shots, trying "to get them to stop" until law officers could be summoned, Dassinger said.
The men returned to their boat and headed away to alert officers only to hear a young man shouting.
"One of the teens, Summer Moody’s boyfriend, came out carrying Summer to the dock and was screaming for help. The men turned around and went back to help," Dassinger said. They loaded her into their boat and headed for Cloverleaf Landing, across the Tensaw River.
Dassinger said that one of the men "was holding her head and she was bleeding all over, they are trying to get her to talk and raise her hand. This was a nightmare. The events that unfolded couldn’t have gone more wrong. It was the worst case of Murphy’s Law. But what do you do if you are out there?"
Dassinger said the other two teens "split" from the scene.
"I think her boyfriend stayed at the dock and maybe his friends came back and picked him up later," he said.
He described the situation as anguishing for his client and the others who were on the island. "But how can you say they did anything wrong? What do you say to Summer’s family?"
What did they do wrong? Seriously?
Let's start with, if you fire a warning shot, at least try to hit the sky - that would be the dark emptiness over the shooter's head, not the enclosed emptiness inside his still-intact skull. And if the suspects kept running, was gunning down a bunch of scattering kids or adults with a .22 really the plan?
Using deadly force in response to people running away - I can't wait to hear what self-defense doctrine applies there. Maybe a Bizzaro World Duty To Prevent Retreat? [Hmm, it might be permissible use of force in defense of property; see STATUTES below.)
The property owner did find some unclaimed weapons at his cabin:
BAY MINETTE, Alabama --
The owner of one of the two fishing camps burglarized on Gravine Island said the door to his house was kicked in, windows broken and power tools were stolen.
“When we pulled up to the dock, I was in shock,” said Steve Stagner, who arrived on the island Sunday morning not knowing about the burglary and shooting that took place hours earlier.
A second house was also burglarized and a screen around the porch was cut, Stagner said. “We had to sit on the dock for hours” while investigators collected evidence.
A knife was found on the porch, and Stagner also saw a gun lying on the dock. “It looked like a rifle,” he said.
The charges against the three teens were upgraded because they allegedly had a .22 with them. If the shooters want to claim they saw a gun pointed at themselves (they don't seem to be), that would be something to consider. A knife in the context described is meaningless.
Something I don't know is whether this community has had a rash of break-ins and whether these three teens have earned a reputation as local thugs. I have had some recent experience with that in Vermont, and sometimes the arrest you read about is just the culmination of a lot of earlier problems. We read that authorities are attempting to link these three to a prior incident and expect further charges.
That said, the court record does not seem to explain the $100,000 bail:
Court records show all three suspects had multiple traffic citations in recent years, including speeding, no insurance, no seat belts and driving with suspended licenses. Byrd was charged with failure to appear in court earlier this year, records show.
Both Parnell and Byrd were placed in their fathers’ custody as young children, with case files from 2003 indicating that Parnell’s mother was involved with illegal drugs. Byrd’s mother lost custody and was placed under a restraining order in 2004, court records show.
If I had to speculate (and what are the odds that I won't?) I would wonder about drugs in the backwoods. There might be a backstory here that explains what looks like a high bail for breaking into a couple of empty cabins.
As to the odds of Al Sharpton flying to Alabama to weigh in, or MSNBC going 24/7 after this - unlikely.
STATUTES: Here are the Alabama statutes on self-defense and the use of force; I will emphasize the part that may be keeping these shooters out of jail:
Code of Alabama - Title 13A: Criminal Code - Section 13A-3-23 - Use of force in defense of a person
Section 13A-3-23 - Use of force in defense of a person.
(a) A person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and he or she may use a degree of force which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary for the purpose. A person may use deadly physical force, and is legally presumed to be justified in using deadly physical force in self-defense or the defense of another person pursuant to subdivision (4), if the person reasonably believes that another person is:
(1) Using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force.
(2) Using or about to use physical force against an occupant of a dwelling while committing or attempting to commit a burglary of such dwelling.
(3) Committing or about to commit a kidnapping in any degree, assault in the first or second degree, burglary in any degree, robbery in any degree, forcible rape, or forcible sodomy.
(4) In the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcefully entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or federally licensed nuclear power facility, or is in the process of sabotaging or attempting to sabotage a federally licensed nuclear power facility, or is attempting to remove, or has forcefully removed, a person against his or her will from any dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle when the person has a legal right to be there, and provided that the person using the deadly physical force knows or has reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act is occurring. The legal presumption that a person using deadly physical force is justified to do so pursuant to this subdivision does not apply if...
I feel like I must be misreading that, because the shooters had no apparent thought of defending themselves, which makes me question the applicability of a section titled "Use of force in defense of a person".
But as I read it, I can imagine it meaning that shooting in defense of a home in order to stop a burgalry in progress is acceptable, even if their is no "self" in the self-defense. Even an unoccupied neighbor's home? Well, did they know it was unoccupied, and does it matter legally? Over to the lawyers!
Pressing on to a section on defense of premises:
Section 13A-3-25 - Use of force in defense of premises.
(a) A person in lawful possession or control of premises, as defined in Section 13A-3-20, or a person who is licensed or privileged to be thereon, may use physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to prevent or terminate what he reasonably believes to be the commission or attempted commission of a criminal trespass by the other person in or upon such premises.
(b) A person may use deadly physical force under the circumstances set forth in subsection (a) of this section only:
(1) In defense of a person, as provided in Section 13A-3-23; or
(2) When he reasonably believes it necessary to prevent the commission of arson in the first or second degree by the trespasser.
Maybe the shooters were qualified to be at the other site? Even if they were, deadly force was not in play.
No help here (I omit everything related to peace officers):
Section 13A-3-27 - Use of force in making an arrest or preventing an escape.
(g) A private person acting on his own account is justified in using physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to effect an arrest or to prevent the escape from custody of an arrested person whom he reasonably believes has committed a felony and who in fact has committed that felony, but he is justified in using deadly physical force for the purpose only when he reasonably believes it necessary to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.
That is not the story they are telling.
Well, I am convinced that the section of defense of premises does not help the shooters but I seem to believe that the section on the defense of other people's property gives them greater latitude. Yes, I recognize that makes no sense. Either I am wrong about the self-defense section (the money bet) or the legislative history was such that an expansion of the protect-your-property rights got buried in the "self-defense" section. The notes at the bottom do suggest to my untrained eye that the self-defense section was modified in 2006, later than the other sections, which is when Alabama adopted "Stand Your Ground". Well, if these shooters were standing their ground something is deeply amiss. And if I end up on the same side of this as the NY Times editors, well, yike. Let's just hope they are as grim-faced about the prosepect as I am.
WHY NO ARREST? Maybe there has been no arrest because the DA is waiting for clarity and hoping he won't be charging a homicide.