Wesley Hall said he didn't want to hurt anyone, but a suspected copper thief didn't leave him much choice early Tuesday.
Hall said he shot James D. King, 41, in the leg after King lunged at him in a dark basement apartment of a house Hall owns at 3220 Poppleton Ave.
King was taken to Creighton University Medical Center in critical condition after the shooting, which occurred about 2:30 a.m. His injuries were not considered life-threatening. His condition was not being released by the hospital.
Hall, who was not hurt and lives about a half-mile northwest of the shooting scene, said he's been making daily checks on the house ever since an April 7 break-in where copper was stolen.
Armed with a handgun, Hall said he found King in a basement apartment. He said he pointed the gun at King and told him not to move.
But King came at him, he said, so he lowered the gun and shot him once in the leg.
Hall, 52, was ticketed on suspicion of having an unregistered handgun and was released from police custody after about three hours of questioning.
If convicted on the gun allegation, Hall could face a maximum six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Omaha City Prosecutor Marty Conboy, who had not yet seen the reports relating to the shooting, said typically a homeowner must establish that there is a legitimate fear for a person's safety to justify a shooting.
“There is an old misconception that you can shoot someone once they are in your house,” Conboy said.
“If they've broken in, you have the right to protect your property, but to use deadly force you have to establish you are in fear for your life or the life of others. . . you can't legally shoot a thief just for being a thief.”
Conboy said there is legislation being considered that would expand the use of deadly force in such situations.
Douglas County Prosecutor Don Kleine said based on the reports he has seen so far, the shooting appears to have been justified. A final determination won't be made until all the reports have been reviewed, he said.
King has had two stints in prison, one for possession of a controlled substance, the other for second-degree forgery.
Kleine said Wednesday that a warrant will be issued charging King with burglary in Tuesday's incident.
Hall said he was not aware that he had to register his gun in Omaha. He said he registered it in California when he bought it 20 years ago while working security for Hughes Aircraft, and he thought that was sufficient.
Along with the early morning visits to his property, Hall put in new lights and alternated which lights he left on to avoid another break-in. Hall estimated there was about $20,000 in damage in the April 7 incident.
He went to the home Tuesday morning and saw some sheet rock in front of a window. He assumed thieves had struck again.
“I went in and was calling out, ‘I'm the homeowner, I have a gun, I'm just looking, just come out, I don't want to scare you,'” Hall said. “I said several times, ‘I have a gun' and ‘If you are here, let me know.'”
Once Hall went into the basement, he knew he might not be alone. He saw a suitcase in the basement, so he stepped into apartment No. 4, a studio.
He walked into the bathroom. It was dark but he could see a man standing behind the door. Hall said he couldn't tell if the man was armed. Hall said he was carrying a loaded Taurus 9 mm handgun.
He said he pointed the gun at “center mass” and yelled, “Freeze, don't move, I'm the homeowner, I have a gun, don't move.'”
Hall, a martial arts instructor and owner of Kicking Tigers USA Tae Kwon Do, said he felt he could have taken out King with some Jackie Chan-style kicks and punches, but he was afraid that King would somehow get the gun or that it would accidentally go off.
“I thought had he got a hold of my gun, he would have shot me and left me bleeding and went off to pawn the gun,” he said.
After shooting King in the leg, he said, King tried coming at him again but fell down. Hall said King tried crawling toward him a few times before giving up.
Police said they found evidence of a copper theft.
Hall said there was a fresh hole cut in the bathroom wall of the basement apartment. Copper was found in the basement storage room.
Some tools were found in the house, including a hacksaw, pliers and flashlight. A pornographic magazine also was found in one of the other bathrooms. Hall said none of the items was in the house when he did his previous check early Monday.
The house has been vacant since summer. Officers were at the same apartment building Friday night to investigate a neighbor's report of a possible burglary. Officers told Hall there have been a lot of copper thefts around the city.
Hall said he believes King was on drugs.
“Someone is pointing a gun at you, shouting ‘freeze, don't move,' you don't rush at the guy,” Hall said. “He (King) wasn't thinking logically. He wasn't acting right. That's why I felt like he would have killed me and not even remembered it.”
Hall said King never said anything to him until after the shooting as they waited for police to arrive. Hall said King told him his name was Dan, that he was 40 and that he'd never been shot before.
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