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Self-defense rights only extend so far

A debate on self-defense rights erupted last week after Oklahoma pharmacist Jerome Ersland was convicted of first-degree murder over the killing of a 16-year-old named Antwun Parker. The young man was shot while attempting to rob Ersland’s store.

Many have expressed outrage over the conviction. One Facebook group, “Jerome Ersland should not have been found guilty,” has more than 3,000 members. Supporters of the man have also collected nearly 10,000 signatures on a petition for his release, according to the Huffington Post.

Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) also chimed in on the debate, saying to ABC News, “I’m gonna spend the rest of my career, however long it may be, trying to right this wrong.”

The clamor over the conviction is wrong and misinformed.

Parker and another young man entered Reliable Discount Pharmacy on May 19, 2009, wearing ski masks in an attempt to steal money and prescription drugs. The accomplice was armed with a handgun, but Parker was not. Two female employees standing behind the counter fled to the back of the store while Ersland, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel, drew his gun, according to Oklahoma’s News on 6.

The pharmacist fired one shot into Parker’s head and proceeded to chase the other robber out of the store. Had that been the end of the story, protest of Ersland’s conviction would have been justified.

But Ersland took the story a bit further. Raw video footage shows Ersland returning to the inside of the store, stepping over Parker’s unconscious body and proceeding behind the counter. He retrieved another handgun and walked back to Parker. Ersland took position above the young man and, without hesitation, fired five more shots into his body.

Once Ersland walked directly over and then away from Parker’s body, he could no longer claim the extra five shots were fired in self-defense. Prosecutors in the case say that physical evidence showed Parker did not move after he was first shot. At the point when he decided to fire five more shots into Parker, Ersland clearly had no reason to be concerned for his safety.

Whenever one human being takes the life of another, the reasons and motives should be carefully examined. The case for self-defense cannot be used as a crutch for those that let their emotions get the best of them, and ridding Ersland of his charges would set a dangerous precedent.

Ersland, in the midst of a stressful and emotional situation, made a decision to ensure the death of his 16-year-old robber. That decision was a mistake and the jury at his trial made an appropriate ruling in convicting him.