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Thursday, March 19, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Homeowner Kills Teen Who Broke Into House

Seattle Times Staff Reporters

A 13-year-old Pierce County boy was fatally shot this morning when he broke into a man's residence south of Tacoma, then tried to run away.

The boy, identified as Travis Duncan, was shot in the buttocks with a 12-gauge shotgun. He died later in Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup.

Duncan was a seventh-grader at Morris Ford Middle School in the Franklin Pierce School District. Though he had had minor problems at school on and off, "He was very well liked by his peers and teachers," said Frank Hewins, the district's executive director for education.

The homeowner, 47, called police immediately after the shooting; he was questioned and released. The Pierce County Prosecutor's Office will review the case to determine whether the shooting was justified.

Typically, though, when an intruder is shot inside someone's home, "it would be a rare situation where we would charge it," said Jerry Costello, administrative deputy to Pierce County Prosecutor John Ladenburg.

Curt Benson, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's office, said the homeowner gave this account:

Around 1 a.m., he was awakened by noises in his home, about five miles south of Tacoma in the town of Summit.

He got a shotgun from the closet and waited to see what would happen.

Then he opened his bedroom door and confronted the intruder, who was standing a few feet away in a dark hallway. The intruder started to run - apparently toward a window he'd pried open to get inside - and the homeowner shot him, hitting him in the buttocks.

In tracing the boy's movements, detectives determined that he used garden tools from the garage to pry a screen off the window.

Benson said detectives are looking into the possibility another teenager may have been outside when the 13-year-old went inside.

Benson said the boy may have thought no one was home because the homeowner's car was being repaired and was not in his garage.

Police found the boy's bicycle and a flashlight in the yard of next-door neighbors.

Hugo Smith, who lives next door, said his wife was awakened around 1 a.m., when she heard a thud. Within minutes, police were at his neighbor's house, Smith said.

He said the neighbor had lived in the one-story brick house for about a dozen years. "When he's out mowing his grass, we talk like neighbors would," Smith said.

"I think he did the right thing" in defending himself, Smith added. "I really believe it, the way things are going these days."

A woman who lives across the street added that her home was burglarized last spring and that another home in the neighborhood also had been broken into recently.

Costello said deadly force against an intruder is legal if a someone has a reasonable belief that he or others are in "an imminent threat" of bodily harm.

Ultimately, Costello said, the question would be, "Knowing what the shooter knew and seeing what the shooter saw . . . what would a reasonable person do?"

The age of the person shot, whether he or she had a weapon and whether they were moving toward or away from the shooter could all be taken into consideration, but only if they affect whether the shooter could reasonably have felt endangered.

Costello said the law gives people protecting themselves a presumption that an act of self-defense was necessary.

In order for homicide to be charged, prosecutors would have the burden of proving the person did not act in self-defense.

In 1990, a charge of first-degree murder was filed against a Tacoma man after he shot and killed a teenage girl outside his home. A jury later found him not guilty.

The man had been in a confrontation with the girl and her companions, and one of them threw a beer bottle at him. The man went into his house, got a shotgun and fired into the group from his porch. He told the jury he feared the group was about to attack him.

In King County, Dan Donohoe, spokesman for Prosecutor Norm Maleng, said there have been periodic cases in which homeowners killed intruders, but he could not think of any that resulted in criminal charges against the resident.

Dave Birkland's phone message number is 206-515-5682. His e-mail address is: dbir-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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