A man who shot to death an Alzheimer’s patient he feared was breaking into his house will not be charged with a crime, a Georgia prosecutor said Feb. 28.
“After review of facts and the relevant law, the district attorney’s office will not pursue charges against Joe Hendrix arising out of the tragic shooting death of Ronald Westbrook,” Herbert E. Franklin, the district attorney for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, said in a statement.
Mr. Hendrix, 35, had been under scrutiny since he fired up to four shots at Mr. Westbrook, 72, a retired Air Force officer who had wandered away from his home and appeared three miles away at the house Mr. Hendrix was renting.
After Mr. Westbrook tried around 4 a.m. on Nov. 27 to open the door of the house on a cul-de-sac in Chickamauga, Ga., Mr. Hendrix’s fiancée dialed 911, and a sheriff’s deputy was dispatched.
As the minutes passed, Mr. Westbrook, who had spoken with a sheriff’s deputy earlier that night after another resident reported seeing a suspicious figure, turned away from the front door and moved toward the back of the house.
Mr. Hendrix took a handgun, hurried out into the darkness and shouted at Mr. Westbrook.
But Mr. Westbrook, who was carrying a flashlight that was not turned on, did not answer.
“Westbrook never verbally responded to Hendrix but began to advance towards Hendrix in what Hendrix described as a quick and aggressive manner,” Mr. Franklin said. “Hendrix could only see a silhouette figure carrying a cylindrical object in his hand but could not make out anything else.”
Mr. Hendrix kept yelling at Mr. Westbrook, who the authorities said “continued to advance towards Hendrix in the same manner.”
I think the man deserved to be punished, but the evidence wasn’t there.
Mr. Hendrix then fired, striking Mr. Westbrook once in the chest.
A lawyer for Mr. Hendrix, Lee Davis, said that his client, an Army veteran who was a spokesman for a congressional campaign in Tennessee in 2012, had acted on a justified fear.
“Eleven minutes is a long time when there’s somebody on the other side of the door,” Mr. Davis said in a telephone interview. “It’s easy to second-guess or to judge his actions from the safety of a computer screen or inside your own home, but I think it’s a lot harder when you’re in that situation.”
Mr. Davis said that Mr. Hendrix welcomed the prosecutor’s decision, but that he regretted the circumstances of the shooting.
“These are difficult cases, and Joe certainly agrees with the district attorney’s investigation and findings,” Mr. Davis said. “But at the same time, Joe, since it happened, has been devastated by the loss to the Westbrook family.”
Mr. Westbrook’s widow, Deanne, said that she wished Mr. Franklin had presented the case to a grand jury.
“I really do think the man deserved to be punished,” Mrs. Westbrook said. “But the evidence wasn’t there.”