Revised 'Castle Doctrine' successfully argued in arrow killing case

| Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011

Somerset County prosecutors on Tuesday cited the revised "Castle Doctrine" statute as the basis for choosing not to pursue a homicide charge against a Stonycreek man who fatally shot his wife's lover outside his home with a compound bow.

Authorities said the Oct. 9 confrontation happened after the victim, Tony Bittinger, left a voicemail for Carl Woolley Jr.'s wife, saying he was going to "put a hole in (Woolley's) head."

Bittinger, 43, of Salisbury drove 37 miles with his two brothers to the Woolleys' home, bringing a 32-inch wooden club that he repeatedly swung as he climbed the front porch steps, state police Trooper Joseph Drzal said.

Witnesses described Bittinger as "intoxicated and basically out of control," said Drzal, who noted that Bittinger's blood-alcohol content was 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit for Pennsylvania drivers.

After repeatedly telling the construction worker to leave, Woolley, 38, retrieved a bow and arrow from his living room and shot him in the upper left chest, authorities said.

District Attorney Jerry Spangler acknowledged that the expansion of the so-called Castle Doctrine, which governs the right to use deadly force without retreat, played a role in the decision not to prosecute Woolley.

In June, Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation enlarging the definition of one's "castle" to include a home's attached porch, deck or patio.

Previously, a person outside his home was required to take steps away from a potential assailant before having a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary to protect himself.

"Because of the facts developed by the police investigation that (Bittinger) had been told repeatedly to leave the premises, that would be an unlawful presence, and because he was approaching this residence with a club, that would be a forceful entry as well," Spangler said at a news conference.

"What we want to make clear here is, this is a very limited factual situation, and this deals with a situation where there was an assault or an attack on the porch attached to the residence."

Woolley could not be reached for comment.

The new Castle Doctrine guidelines have been tested in a few cases in the state.

In Montgomery County, authorities are investigating whether a Dec. 17 shooting that left a 19-year-old man dead and his adoptive father wounded was justified.

The men were wielding baseball bats when they confronted the homeowner, who claims he shot them in self-defense after he was assaulted.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said investigators are looking at the Castle Doctrine provisions as part of their review of the case.

Kim Stolfer of McDonald, chairman of the group Firearms Owners Against Crime, said the prosecutors' decision in the Somerset County case was an appropriate interpretation of the Castle Doctrine.

"Citizens shouldn't live in fear of prosecution when they're also in fear of serious harm or death," he said.

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