A no-win scenario



It's a situation any one of us would dread -- in the middle of the night, in your home where you assume you're safe, you hear the sounds of an intruder.

Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet faced that situation early Friday and made a decision an innocent homeowner shouldn't have to make -- to use deadly force to protect his life and property.

Overstreet, armed and ready, shot and killed John Egland Howard Jr. A man is dead, and a good man must deal with having killed him. However justified -- and few killings are more justifiable than this one -- it has to be traumatic and distressing.

Let's take a moment to trudge up the stairs in his shoes. Judge Overstreet is a human being first. Our hearts and prayers go out to him and his family. He did what he had to do.

Certainly we should thank God it was the intruder, not the judge, who met with his end. And say a prayer of thanks that we live in a state that recognizes the sacred right, and even the obligation, of men to protect themselves and their loved ones with whatever force necessary. The law was changed only five years ago to broaden homeowners' immunity by giving them the legal right to use deadly force with an intruder regardless of the perceived danger. Thank goodness for that, too.

Sadly, though, we still don't live in a state whose laws take the crime of burglary very seriously at all. Indeed, Howard is a repeat offender whose crimes stretch across the breadth of the Augusta Judicial Circuit: Richmond, Burke and Columbia counties. He was placed on 10 years' probation for burglary just last year by Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown Jr., for all the good that did.

Judge Brown, while he's not singularly responsible for Georgia's inept handling of career burglars, is truly fortunate his friend and colleague Judge Overstreet is alive today.

If the Overstreet case is a seminal episode in Augusta criminal history -- and it became one instantly -- so should it be in Georgia's. It should be the shot heard 'round the state Capitol: Lawmakers are now duty-bound to find new, creative and effective ways to stem the tide of burglaries in this state and more adequately punish their commission.

What they're doing now isn't working -- and it's compelling homeowners in the judge's Summerville neighborhood to send e-mails and set up websites and text alerts to warn each other of the dangers in their midst.

And it's forcing gentle citizens to take up arms. And use them.

No one wins in that scenario.

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