- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A former schoolteacher pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of murder and attempted murder in the shooting of two unarmed trespassers in a vacant home in northern Nevada.

The defendant, Wayne Burgarello, has acknowledged fatally shooting Cody Devine and seriously wounding Janai Wilson in February inside his Sparks duplex, where he said he also found drug paraphernalia and garbage. The 73-year-old said he feared for his life and was defending himself when he opened fire.

He was arrested in May in a case that has drawn attention to Nevada’s “stand your ground” law, which allows the use of deadly force against attackers.

“The bulk of the facts in this case have not yet been made public,” Burgarello’s lawyer, Theresa Ristenpart, wrote to The Associated Press. “I am confident that if a jury is given an accurate account of what happened they will find Mr. Burgarello acted lawfully, and is therefore innocent of all charges.”

Prosecutors disagree and say evidence will show the 34-year-old Devine and 29-year-old Wilson weren’t posing a threat when they were shot.

At an Aug. 20 hearing in Reno, Ristenpart said her client cooperated with police the night of the shooting and repeatedly told officers he was sorry about the encounter.

Washoe County prosecutor Bruce Hahn said, however, that Burgarello showed little remorse. “He still insisted he didn’t do anything wrong even though he shot and killed one man and seriously wounded a woman who was lying on the floor,” he said.

Burgarello went to the home Feb. 13 armed with two handguns after a neighbor phoned him about suspicious activity, Ristenpart said. The neighbor told Burgarello the home been burglarized before and sometimes used as a drug den, she said.

Burgarello has told authorities that after entering the darkened, rundown duplex he called out several times, identifying himself as the homeowner and saying he was armed.

When he entered a back bedroom, Devine’s “arm came up like a gun” and Burgarello opened fire, striking Devine and Wilson, Ristenpart has said in a court filing.

Wilson was shot in the arm, stomach and leg, but she was able to flee for help, according to police statements. Hahn didn’t immediately respond to inquiries about her condition late Wednesday.

Burgarello shot Devine five times, once in the head, authorities have said. Hahn has said evidence involving the wounds counter the self-defense claim.

More than 30 states have self-defense laws that allow deadly force against attackers who pose an imminent threat, regardless of whether the aggressor is armed. Nevada law says the shooter cannot be the original aggressor.

Burgarello entered the not guilty pleas at an arraignment hearing in Reno. He’s set to appear in court again next month for a status check. His trial is set for January.

Burgarello was released from jail last month after posting $150,000 bail, which had been reduced from $2 million. Ristenpart said her client had never been arrested before and that three months of jail had negatively affected his health.

Devine’s mother, Debbie Peckham, said her son had just met Wilson and thought he was in her home. He was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time while trying to help the woman move, she said.

“People like Burgarello shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this,” she said.

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