After fatal shooting, man comes to terms with self-defense

Fla. homeowner's guilt over killing robbery suspect is typical, police say

October 15, 2006|By Jamie Malernee | Jamie Malernee,South Florida Sun-Sentinel

His voice shakes. He can't work, he says, can't concentrate. He's 260 pounds of tough guy, but tears fall as he relives the moment he killed a man.

It has been a week since police say Christopher Welker, 26, caught two robbery suspects outside his Hollywood, Fla., home, trying to steal the new chrome rims off his truck in the middle of the night. During a scuffle for one suspect's gun, Welker shot one dead and wounded the other.

Police agree that Welker acted in self-defense. But that doesn't mean he hasn't paid a price. He says his girlfriend won't go inside the house, so they're moving. And even though he is thankful he and his family are safe, Welker says he'd give almost anything to turn back the clock.

"I wish I could go back and just shoot them both in the leg, so they could stand for their crime. I don't wish to take anybody's life," he said, fighting tears. "I wish I had gone out later, and they could have taken the truck. The truck is replaceable. The kid was 22 years old."

"The kid," the one killed in the robbery, was Ronald Magano. Welker said he lived only two blocks away, that he had seen him around the neighborhood but didn't know him. Magano and the other man police say was involved, Jason Robert Melendez, 23, also of Hollywood, had long criminal histories, records show.

Welker says he knew none of that when he and his girlfriend heard a noise outside their home at about 1:30 a.m. Oct. 7. Welker thought it might just be his neighbor, but went to check.

Outside, he found a strange car. Through the windshield, he saw two men, one who quickly pulled a ski mask over his face. The next moment, Welker recalls, the second man was out of the car, putting the barrel of a gun to his neck.

"The one guy, he was real calm. He said, `OK, let's do this.' ... They said they wanted to go inside the house and `clear it out' ... get the keys," Welker recalled.

Not long ago, a family member of Welker's was robbed - and almost raped in the process, he said. At the moment Welker had a gun to his throat, Welker's longtime girlfriend and 17-month-old daughter were inside his house.

"I'm thinking, `These guys are not coming inside my house. I'd rather be dead.'"

Welker grabbed the barrel of the revolver and two shots went off, he said. Soon, all three struggled for the gun.

It went off again. The man in front of Welker fell to the ground. The taller one kept struggling. As they wrestled, Welker pulled the trigger again.

"There ain't no more bullets!" Welker said the thief cried.

The thief rushed him into the vehicle, he says. Welker pistol-whipped him in the head. The thief grabbed the gun and took off down the street.

Soon police arrived. Welker's girlfriend had called 911. Authorities found Melendez and arrested him. He faces multiple charges, including felony murder, armed robbery and possession of firearm by a convicted felon.

Welker, who lays flooring for a living, says he thought he was going to leave in handcuffs, too.

"I have a record and when it first happened, I thought I was going to jail," he said. "I mean, I just killed somebody."

Police, however, have sided with Welker, calling it self-defense. "As far as we are concerned, it was a justified shooting. He was protecting himself, his property, his kid," said Capt. Tony Rode of the Hollywood Police Department.

Rode added, however, that Welker's reaction to the shooting isn't unusual. The department has victims' advocates and a chaplain who can offer counseling. Welker says he has reached out for help.

"Sometimes there are emotional scars afterward," Rode said. "Whether it happens in a car accident or a struggle over a gun, you've taken somebody's life. These type of traumatic incidents affect ... people in different ways."

Some people have congratulated Welker, telling him he gave the two men what they deserved. But Welker says he feels conflicted, not courageous. He's worried about reprisals. And while he still has his truck rims and his family, he has lost something else.

"Thank God [my baby girl] is OK. I just hope nobody ever brings it up to her," Welker said. "I don't want to have to explain."

Jamie Malernee writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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