Essex resident Shawn Garrett and his family have been dealing with every homeowner's worst nightmare.
"Any time you wake up in the middle of the night and there's a stranger in your house, that by itself would be traumatic enough, but then given the events that happened after this it has been really tough on them," said Kurt Hughes, Garrett's lawyer.
Police say Garrett, 40, and his wife, were asleep on the couch when Ryan Morton-Lane, 30, entered their home through an unlocked door. Police say Garrett discovered Morton-Lane in his home office. The intruder from Connecticut threatened to kill him with a blade. Garrett got his hands on a paring knife and the two men started fighting. During the altercation Morton-Lane was fatally stabbed in the heart and breastbone. Prosecutors say the couple's young son called 911 while his mom held the dying man at gunpoint and his father pinned him on the lawn.
For nearly three weeks the question lingered: was the killing justified? On Wednesday Chittenden County's top prosecutor said yes.
"I find that Shawn Garrett acted in self-defense and was justified in doing so," Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan said. "Based on my review of this matter I decline to file any criminal charges against Shawn Garrett."
Garrett doesn't remember the stabbing, but police say both men had wounds consistent with a brawl. Prosecutors say forensic evidence at the scene backs up Garrett's version of events.
"Put simply there is no evidence to support that Mr. Garrett was engaging in some type of vigilante justice, which clearly would not be tolerated," Donovan said.
Donovan says this is not an invitation for homeowners to take up arms, but rather a decision based on close analysis of the events that night. He says a self-defense killing is only justified when a person feels that deadly force is their only option to survive.
The Garrett family declined an on camera interview but told WCAX News they're still trying to pick up the pieces. They say life will never be the same, but they say they're trying to get back to normal for the sake of their son.
"The family is very grateful for the end result obviously. In their hearts they never thought anything different would happen. Shawn has always felt he didn't have any choice with what he did," Hughes said.
A sigh of relief for a family hoping to heal and move on.
Police say the investigation is not over. They're now looking into whether Morton-Lane may have had an accomplice.
STATEMENT FROM SHAWN GARRETT:
On behalf of my wife, my son, and myself I would like to sincerely thank all those who have sent their support, prayers and love to us during this horribly tragic time. We are blessed to be part of such an amazing community. We would like to extend our gratitude to the Essex Police Department for their thoroughness and compassion during the course of this investigation, to the Chittenden County State's Attorney's office for its fair and balanced approach, as well as to the Essex Alliance Church for helping to keep our faith strong. I would also like to extend to Kurt Hughes and his firm our deepest and most sincere appreciation for their tremendous professionalism.
No one should take the results of this investigation as a license for any type of vigilante justice. We never wanted this to happen. Our lives have been unalterably changed both by the intrusion into our home in the middle of the night, and by the resulting loss of life. The family of Mr. Morton-Lane is in our prayers. At this time, we only wish to get on with our lives as best we can, and live in peace.
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