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Shooting of Alzheimer's patient ignites debate over 'Stand Your Ground' laws

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Ronald Westbrook died from a gunshot wound to his torso. Ronald Westbrook died from a gunshot wound to his torso.
WALKER COUNTY, Ga. -

The tragic shooting of a 72-year-old man in North Georgia has re-ignited a nationwide debate over "Stand Your Ground" laws. A man in Walker County shot and killed what he thought was a prowler outside his home. It turned out to be Ron Westbrook, a lost Alzheimer's patient.

Investigators said that Westbrook had walked nearly three miles in sub-freezing temperatures and was lost and confused when he knocked on the door of home of Joe Hendrix's fiancé just before 4 a.m. on Nov. 27.

"He ordered him to raise his hands, yelled, ‘Who are you? What are you doing here,'" Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said.

Hendrix said the shadowy figure didn't speak and wouldn't stop walking towards him, so he shot him four times.
 
Authorities said that Westbrook had an advanced case of Alzheimer's and, at times, could barely speak. He was wearing a light jacket on the night he was shot.

"I cannot tell you how difficult that was for me to have to sit and tell her, her husband -- a decorated lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, a man who played in our church orchestra -- had just been shot and killed because he was knocking on  a door," Wilson said.

Authorities have not arrested or pressed any charges against Hendrix.

"By him going outside his home, he didn't break any laws," Wilson said. "He chose to go out. Me personally, I wish he'd have stayed inside."

Attorney Lance LoRusso said that Hendrix had to right under Georgia's "Stand Your Ground" law to go outside.

"You don't have a duty to retreat if, number one, you're in a lawful activity at the time," LoRusso. "And number two, you're in a place where you have a lawful right to be."

Investigators said that Hendrix had been asleep at his fiance's when Westbrook knocked on the door.

LoRusso said it's a different set of laws that spell out when you can use deadly force.

"If you're protecting yourself, you're protecting a third person from an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death, or you're protecting someone from a forcible felony being committed," LoRusso said.

LoRusso believes a walker county grand jury, will ultimately make the decision if Hendrix's use of deadly force was reasonable.

"We're going to have people looking at things like proximity between this gentleman and the person who was shot," LoRusso said. "You're going to have things like what actions were taken, what words were used."

The sheriff's office is still investigating the shooting. When that investigation is over, the district attorney said he will meet with the sheriff and decide what happens next.

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