Prosecutors will not charge La Center man in shooting of intruder

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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Updated: February 29, 2012, 7:10 PM

 
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La Center Fatal Shooting

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Prosecutors said Wednesday they will not charge a La Center homeowner who fatally shot an inebriated intruder on his property the very early morning of Jan. 24.

The intruder, who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.33 — more than four times the legal driving limit — had apparently leaned into the barrel of the homeowner’s shotgun during a confrontation, causing the gun to go off, prosecutors said.

In a letter to Clark County sheriff’s investigators, Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott Jackson wrote that there was insufficient evidence that homeowner Leland Larsen, 59, intended to kill Barry Parnel, 29. Jackson also said Larsen shouldn’t be held liable for a lesser manslaughter charge because he was lawfully arming himself and the shooting was accidental.

Larsen declined comment Wednesday night. His attorney is William Robison, a family member said.

The situation started just after midnight, when Larsen’s wife, Mary, spotted the intruder, dressed in a dark-colored hooded sweatshirt, outside the home when she let her three dogs out and they began barking, according to Jackson’s letter.

She screamed and woke her husband, who retrieved his shotgun and went outside to investigate. Meanwhile, Mary Larsen called 911.

In an interview with sheriff’s investigators after the event, Leland Larsen said he saw the stranger walking to the front of the house when he shouted at him to stop. The stranger then walked toward a gravel road on the 11.5-acre property, as Larsen followed and yelled for him to get on the ground, according to the letter.

After Larsen fired a warning shot in the air, the intruder turned toward Larsen. Larsen walked up to Parnel, and Parnel leaned into the barrel of the shotgun, so it pressed against his chest.

Larsen said his finger was on the trigger and the pressure of the stranger pressing against the barrel of the gun caused it to go off.

“It appears that Leland was in the process of investigating the presence of Barry being on his property at 30 minutes after midnight, when the shotgun accidentally went off,” Jackson wrote. “Leland stated that he did not intend to shoot Barry; he only wanted to detain Barry until the police arrived.”

Jackson also said prosecutors considered lesser manslaughter charges, which only require proof of recklessness or negligence as opposed to intent to kill. However, Jackson said Larsen was simply arming himself to investigate a prowler, and Washington law allows a person to “reasonably use (force) … to detain someone who enters or remains unlawfully in a building or on a real property.”

“In this case, it does not appear that a reasonable and objective fact-finder would fault Leland Larsen in retrieving his shotgun and going outside to investigate,” Jackson wrote.

After authorities arrived, Parnel was transported to the hospital, where he died.

In follow-up investigation, sheriff’s detectives discovered that Parnel had patronized bars beforehand and had been at Chips Casino, about a 10-minute walk from the Larsen property, just before the event.

Detectives said Parnel began drinking at a Vancouver bar that afternoon and then went to the casino, where he stayed until just after midnight. He arrived at the Larsen property just after 12:30 a.m.

“Unfortunately, we will probably never know why Barry ended up in the Larsen’s backyard after leaving the casino,” Jackson said. “That said, Barry’s unresponsiveness to Leland’s repeated yelling can probably be explained by his extremely high level of alcohol intoxication. It also appears that Barry’s extreme intoxication probably explains why he stumbled or walked into the shotgun, causing it to go off.”

A top prosecutor said the last justifiable homicide in Clark County by a civilian, not a police officer, was more than 15 years ago, when a homeowner shot a burglar inside his home who had advanced toward the homeowner’s wife; the homeowner was not charged.

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.