RENO, Nev. (AP) — Accused of murder for confronting two unarmed trespassers with a deadly barrage of gunfire, Wayne Burgarello walked out of a Nevada courthouse a free man after the jury found him not guilty of all charges in the latest of a series of cases nationally testing the boundaries of stand-your-ground self-defense laws.
“It’s going to be OK,” he said as he laughed with family members outside the courtroom after hugging his lawyer after the clerk’s reading of the verdicts Friday night.
Burgarello, 74, a retired Sparks school teacher, insisted he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Cody Devine and seriously wounded Janai Wilson in a vacant, rundown duplex he owns in February 2014.
A jury deliberated for six hours before finding him not guilty on a charge of attempted murder as well as four alternative charges of first- and second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. He would have faced up to life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder.
Burgarello’s lawyer told reporters he wanted to go home with his loved ones after a long day and had no further comment.
“We’d just like to say thank you to the jury for finally seeing what this case was about, which is justified self-defense,” Reno attorney Theresa Ristenpart said. “He did what he had to do to protect his own life.”
A friend of the Devine family who now serves as a victims advocate in Minnesota said state lawmakers need to re-examine “how these stand-your-ground laws have led to unjust homicides.”
“Justice was not served today,” said the Rev. Howard Dotson, a former Sparks minister. “Cody Devine did not deserve to die for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Washoe County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Hahn had argued first-degree murder was warranted because Burgarello acted with premeditation. He said Burgarello wanted to exact revenge for repeated burglaries at the property he largely abandoned nine years ago in a working-class neighborhood just east of Reno.
“There was going to be a deadly confrontation,” he told the jury. “He was mad. Somebody was going to pay.”
Hahn declined to say whether he was surprised by the verdicts Friday night.
“The Sparks Police Department did a tremendous investigative effort and we’re grateful for the jury’s service,” he told The Associated Press.
Wilson testified during the two-week trial that she stayed at the duplex off and on for three years. She said Burgarello opened fire without provocation while she and Devine were sleeping in a makeshift bed on the floor.
Neither trespasser had a firearm, but Burgarello told police Devine’s arm “came up like a gun.”
Ristenpart said he might have mistaken a black flashlight found at the scene for a gun and had only a split second to respond. She said it was Devine and Wilson, not Burgarello, who “created the dangerous, threatening situation, trespassing, getting high on meth and being where they shouldn’t be, where they had no right to be.”
“The state wants you to find Wayne was the aggressor for going into his own home. That’s not being aggressive. That’s your right,” she said.
Hahn said the trespassers had no business being there, but did nothing to threaten Burgarello and didn’t deserve to be “shot like fish in a barrel on the floor.”
Devine was shot five times, including once in the head. Wilson was shot three times.
“It wasn’t one or two (shots), then we’ll talk. It was eight rounds,” Hahn said. “It was open season.”
Nevada’s stand-your-ground law allows property owners to use deadly force against attackers who pose an imminent threat, regardless of whether they are armed as long as the shooter isn’t the initial aggressor.
More than 30 states have adopted or strengthened stand-your-ground laws since Florida expanded its law in 2005 to allow deadly force outside the home. Interpretation of those laws has been controversial since a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin’s 2012 shooting death.
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