- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2001

Lisa Mackey Gant, 36, might have been just another name in the obituary pages, one more female victim of an angry boyfriend. Friends and family would have mourned her, police would have thrown up their hands in despair over another domestic violence case gone bad, and that would have been the end of her. Today, however, the South Carolina woman is very much alive and her assailant dead because she was prepared to defend herself. Nor does she face trial thanks to the intervention of South Carolina Attorney General Charles Condon.

Having watched state prosecutors try several people who had defended themselves and their homes against intruders, Mr. Condon announced in January that henceforth the state would stop treating homeowners as the moral equivalents of home invaders. "As chief prosecutor of South Carolina," he said in a statement, "I am today declaring open season on home invaders. That season is year-round. Citizens protecting their homes who use force, even deadly force, will be fully safeguarded under the law of this state and subject to no arrest, charge or prosecution. In South Carolina, would-be intruders should now hear this: invade a home and invite a bullet."

According to police reports, Ms. Gant's problems followed an argument with William Brock, father of her child, over the fact that she wanted to end their relationship. Brock, who lived 20 miles away, came to her house Feb. 17, slapped her and put her in a headlock. She broke free, ordered him out of the house and locked the door behind him. There the matter might have ended. Instead, Brock broke down the front door with his shoulder and pursued her into the kitchen. Fearful of what might happen next, Ms. Gant stabbed him with a knife. He staggered out to his car, where police found him dead. Police viewed the matter as a simple domestic violence case and charged her with murder.

On Feb. 26, however, Mr. Condon wrote to local prosecutors to say that her actions were the kind of self-defense his home-invasion policy contemplated and, further, that they were to drop all charges against her and allow her to go free. "Ms. Gant did what any law-abiding citizen would have done in her place she defended her life and her property which stood in harm's way. No prosecution of this lady is warranted."

Editors at the New York Times, obviously aghast at this hillbilly backwater brand of justice, quickly sent a reporter parachuting into the state to catalog its follies. Readers soon learned that Mr. Condon made his home-invasion statement about the same time he announced he would be running for governor. Moreover, he was prone to making tasteless remarks about "electric sofas" in reference to electrocutions. The implication was that Mr. Condon is just another attention-seeking pol willing to trample Lady Justice if that's what it takes to get ahead in the polls.

Against that backdrop, the Times reported that Brock's family was scandalized that Ms. Gant would not have to face trial. Police too expressed surprise and warned that it might lead to a rash of "vigilante" justice and increased domestic violence. But which of the two, Brock or Ms. Gant, took justice into his own hands? Was it Ms. Gant, who tried to lock Brock out of the house? Or was it Brock, who could have called police at that point to press whatever claim he had but instead chose to knock the door down? How many reporters and editors would watch their own doors come down and calmly say to the intruder, "Come let us reason together?" How many would try to defend themselves?

Interestingly, the Times account made no mention of an earlier home-invasion homicide involving two Charleston, S.C., men. It seems that on Feb. 3 Shermaine Whitley found Jerome Ivery hiding under a bed in a friend's apartment. Ivery fired first, hitting Mr. Whitley. Mr. Whitley returned fire, hitting and ultimately killing Ivery. Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg declined to file charges against Mr. Whitley based on the home-invasion policy, a decision that Mr. Condon quickly endorsed. In this case, it's clear that the "vigilante" who took justice into his own hands was Ivery, not Mr. Whitley. Interestingly, police subsequently found that Ivery had been involved in a previous home invasion in Charleston, in which he tied up a 53-year-old woman and made off with $1,500 in valuables.

From the perspective of the thoughtful, progressive persons staring down at the messy lives of those lower on the social strata, it would certainly be preferable to have police resolve ugly standoffs like those of Ms. Gant and Mr. Whitley before they enforce their own imperfect brand of justice. But as some people have noticed, police can't be everywhere. Nor, as courts have held repeatedly, can police be held accountable for failing to protect any one person. Mr. Condon has decided that under the circumstances, allowing residents to provide for their own defense is reasonable. At least two people in South Carolina are alive because of it.

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