Cotter: no charges in Berrien shootingPublished 9:21am Monday, November 16, 2009
ST. JOSEPH – Berrien County Prosecuting Attorney Arthur J. Cotter announced Nov. 10 that no charges will be authorized in connection with the Oct. 19 shooting death of Bobby Masters, who would have been 35 Nov. 24.
Masters was shot at 2119 Lenora Drive, Lincoln Township, by Leonard Brown, 46.
A review of the investigation into the shooting conducted by the Lincoln Township Police Department determined Brown acted in self-defense.
Brown resides at the Lenora Drive address with his wife, his two stepdaughters, ages 14 and 17, and a stepson, 12.
Masters, the biological father of the 12-year-old stepson, had been living with the Brown family for several months to assist him in getting back on his feet, as well as to help him address a severe alcohol and drug problem.
All of the family members report that during the time Masters resided at the residence, he and Brown had a friendly, peaceful relationship with the exception of th night in question.
On the afternoon of Oct. 19, Masters, the 14-year-old stepdaughter and the 12-year-old stepson went fishing at a local park.
When they had not returned home by 10:30 p.m., Brown drove around looking for them, but was unable to locate Masters or the two children.
Brown confronted Masters and his two-stepchildren when they returned to the residence sometime after 11 p.m.
The 17-year-old stepdaughter was also present in the home at the time, however, Mrs. Brown was gone on the night of the incident.
Brown discovered Masters had been drinking heavily and had supplied both his stepson and his 14-year-old stepdaughter with alcohol as well.
Masters’ subsequent autopsy determined his blood-alcohol level at the time of his death was .297, over 3 1/2 times the legal limit of .08, and that a preliminary breath test administered to the 12-year-old stepson later that night reflected a .085 blood-alcohol level.
In the subsequent verbal argument that ensued between Brown and Masters over his drinking and giving alcohol to minor children, Brown locked Masters out of the home.
Enraged, Masters attempted to violently force open a sliding glass door in the rear of the residence, but was unable to do so.
Investigators later observed the handle of the sliding glass door had been ripped off.
Unable to open the sliding door, Masters then went to another rear door of the home and proceeded to kick in that door, which had a deadbolt lock on it.
Investigators subsequently found the door frame on this door was broken and that the door had indeed been kicked in.
While outside, and then after he gained entrance to the home via the door he kicked in, Masters repeatedly yelled he was going to kill Brown.
As Masters kicked in the back door, Brown retrieved a family shotgun kept in the upstairs master bedroom of the quad-level residence.
Brown proceeded back downstairs and stood at the top of the stairs on the third level when he observed that Masters was now in the lower level of the residence with his 12-year-old stepson and his 14-year-old stepdaughter, attempting to hold Masters back from assaulting him.
Masters was able to break free of the children’s grasp and proceeded up the steps to the third level toward Brown.
According to Brown, Masters was yelling “you’re dead” and something to the effect of, “I’m going to kill you.”
Brown retreated up the adjoining flight of steps to the fourth level, all the while yelling at Masters to stop.
Brown retreated to the entrance of the master bedroom, where he was pursued by Masters.
At the bedroom door, Brown indicated he pointed the gun slightly above waist height, closed his eyes as Masters came at him and fired the weapon at him.
When Brown opened his eyes, Masters was standing in front of him and had grabbed the barrel of the weapon and pulled on it, at which time Brown fired the weapon a second time, causing Masters to fall to the floor in the hallway.
Masters died at the scene as a result of the two gunshot wounds to his torso.
Brown fled downstairs and called 911. Brown told police he shot Masters because he feared for his life.
The three children who were present in the home during the incident were interviewed and corroborate Brown’s statement of events.
Masters had a troubling history.
He had two prior convictions for resisting and obstructing a police officer, three for domestic violence, one for assault and battery, two for drunk driving and at the time of his death was out on bond for a pending home invasion, first degree, case in Ottawa County, where it is alleged he kicked in the door to an apartment and assaulted the resident.
In reviewing prior police reports, Masters has threatened suicide in the past and, in fact, attempted to commit suicide on a prior occasion while in the presence of the police by slitting his wrist with a knife.
Brown knew this past violent history of Masters, which was aggravated whenever he drank. Brown has no prior criminal record.
Michigan law provides that an individual has the right to use deadly force to defend himself where he has an honest and reasonable belief that he is in danger of being killed or seriously injured.
In evaluating whether an individual has an honest and reasonable belief of such impending harm, jurors are instructed to consider the circumstances as they appeared to the individual at the time, as well as the condition of the people involved, including their relative strength; the nature of the other person’s attack or threat; and whether the individual knew about any previous violent acts or threats made by the other person.
An individual does not need to prove he acted in self-defense.
Rather, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant did not act in self-defense.
“In reviewing the facts of this case,” Cotter said in a written statement, “I find that Brown acted in self-defense in the shooting of Bobby Masters. On the night in question, Brown was confronted with a highly inebriated, volatile and angry individual who had just kicked in a door to the residence, who repeatedly threatened to kill him and who pursued him within the Brown residence, even though Leonard Brown was armed with a shotgun in a failed attempt to scare and deter Masters.
“While Brown was not required to retreat within his own home,” Cotter said, “Brown did retreat up the stairs to his bedroom, where he was cornered, before discharging the weapon at Masters.
“Finally, given Brown’s knowledge of Masters’ extensive history of violence, the people cannot assert that Brown did not have an honest and reasonable belief that he was in danger of being, at the very least, seriously injured by Masters.”