2 laws likely in play in James Island shooting

In this file photo, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon speaks during the naming ceremony of the county's new detention center Monday, Nov. 29, 2010. Cannon said investigators still are sorting through what happened in the Riverview neighborhood, and have made no determination on possible charges.

Wade Martin told police he was defending his property when he opened fire on a man he suspected was a thief early Tuesday. Now, authorities must determine whether Martin was a citizen exercising his rights or a gun owner who crossed the line.

On Wednesday, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said investigators still are sorting through what happened in the Riverview neighborhood, and have made no determination on possible charges.

The outcome of the case likely will revolve around a pair of laws that govern the extent to which residents can protect their property and bring criminals to justice.

The shooting occurred in a small neighborhood that has been on edge for months because of burglaries and auto break-ins.

Martin, 22, told deputies he fired five shots into a car about 12:30 a.m. because the driver, he said, was trying to

steal from his truck. One of the rounds grazed the head of the driver, 32-year-old Ronald McClellan, who told authorities he was just looking through curbside trash.

Martin told WCIV-TV on Tuesday that he fired his gun because he was defending his property. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In 2006, state lawmakers passed a bill that extended legal coverage under the Castle Doctrine, which allows residents to use deadly force against intruders to protect themselves and their property.

Someone's business or a car in danger of being hijacked became areas covered by the legally recognized defense. The law, however, only refers to "occupied" vehicles.

A separate state law gives citizens the power to arrest felons and thieves at night "by efficient means as the darkness and the probability of escape render necessary, even if the life of the person should be taken."

Citizens can exercise those arrest powers if, among other things, the suspect has stolen property in his possession or "being under circumstances which raise just suspicion of his design to steal or to commit some felony, flees when he is hailed."

Cannon said that law has been on the books since 1866 and was revised as recently as the mid-1990s. If anything, he said, state lawmakers made the provisions even broader for residents.

Cannon would not specifically discuss how those laws might impact the James Island shooting investigation. He said only that detectives were "looking at the case and its specifics to determine where that situation falls."

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson declined to comment on the case, saying she had not yet received all the information on the incident.

In the past, authorities across the state have given a fair amount of leeway to citizens who have used deadly force to protect their homes and property. Just this month, Lexington County authorities declined to charge a West Columbia homeowner who shot and killed a man he caught breaking into his truck.