Rodney Eugene Long
(Photo: Provided to The Des Moines Register)
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Taylor County Attorney Clinton Spurrier needed little time to reach a decision on what to do about the homicide near Bedford early Tuesday morning.
There would be no charges.
Jerome Mauderly, 71, shot and killed Rodney Long, the handgun-wielding prison escapee who had held Mauderly and his wife, Carolyn, hostage in their home for four hours.
Mauderly's action is clearly protected under Iowa's self-defense law, Spurrier said.
Many voices have hailed the incident as a prime example of how the right to bear arms is a necessity to defend one's home and oneself.
It also has prompted renewed calls to expand Iowans' rights to defend themselves - with anything from fists to firearms - beyond the sphere of one's home or business.
The story is gaining wide attention among gun rights advocates.
The conservative libertarian multimedia network the Blaze, which is funded by former Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, linked to The Des Moines Register story about the incident with the headline "Shotgun Packing Elderly Couple Ruins Dangerous Fugitive's Escape Plan With Deadly Shot."
"This situation is a poster child for the Second Amendment," said Clel Baudler, an Iowa House Republican from Greenfield and former Iowa State Trooper. "The bad guy is dead. The good guys are alive and healthy."
Iowa law currently allows a person to use any force that a person reasonably believes is necessary to defend oneself or another from an imminent threat.
The law specifies that reasonable force is justified when protecting one's property, such as a home or business.
That standard was clearly met in the Taylor County homicide, Spurrier said from his office in Ringgold County, where he also serves as part-time county attorney. Long possessed a stolen handgun, had invaded the Mauderlys' home and held them against their will.
"This is one of the more clean-cut cases of self-defense I've dealt with in a 26-year career," he said. "The Mauderlys were in their home and had every reason to believe their lives were threatened. They were aware (Long) had already shot a deputy. He had threatened their lives."
But when a person is threatened in areas other than an individual's home or business, Iowa law requires people to seek a reasonable alternative course of action - such as running away or taking shelter from an attacker.
"Our self-defense law is better than some states when it comes to the home or business," said Iowa House Rep. Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley whose family owns a gun shop. "It gets murkier, though, when you are in public. For example, if someone comes up to you while you're stuck in traffic and pounds on your window with a gun, the law as it is now requires you to try to climb over the center console and get out of the car rather than defend yourself."
Windschitl introduced a so-called Stand Your Ground bill in the Iowa House in 2013, but it did not make it to the Iowa Senate. "Stand your ground" laws greatly expand an individual's right to self-defense, allowing a person, wherever he or she is, to use deadly force to protect oneself or others.
Such laws have generated intense national debate since 2012, when Florida neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, during a physical confrontation. Zimmerman was acquitted on a murder charge in June.
Windschitl said the Taylor County incident is not an ideal example of why Iowa needs expansion of self-defense laws, but he said he still believes lawmakers need to discuss adoption of a stand-your-ground law.
Bob Rigg, a former defense attorney and Drake University Law School professor, said Iowa law already gives reasonable protections for self-defense.
"Whenever you discuss stand your ground, you have to consider the wide-ranging effects," Rigg said. "So far, the Legislature has been unwilling to expand the law. You don't want people having shootouts in your communities."
Rigg cited the examples of duels in the streets depicted in fictional accounts of the Old West. Iowa law would require a person challenged to a gunfight to seek an alternative action - in other words, walk away.
"Right now, under the law, the winner of the gunfight will be charged with a homicide," Rigg said.
Daniel P. Finney, The Des Moines Register