Circuit Judge Tyler Gill sentenced Timothy Claytor Tuesday morning to five years in prison, the maximum sentence for reckless homicide, for the shooting and killing of Dale Holloway in 2012. Judge Gill was responsible for the sentence when a jury, who had convicted Claytor of reckless homicide, could not agree on a sentence of one to five years.
Before giving the sentence, Judge Gill read a lengthy statement which follows:
“I would first like to discuss generally the law of self-defense as it relates to home defense and homicide. Public interest in cases involving homicide and claims of self-defense at private residences is high, but the law is often misunderstood. Misunderstanding of the law may have been a factor in the death of the victim in this case.
“The high level of interest in these self-defense cases is also connected to our right to bear arms. The law of self-defense - is an ancient doctrine that recognizes our instinct for, and right of, self-preservation in the face of a direct assault. It protects from criminal punishment a person who must intentionally kill an attacker to defend themselves or others from death or serious physical injury. Where homicide is involved, the theory is that killing may be justified to save innocent life. This defense does not exist to protect property or property rights. The concept of self-defense is popular and respected at all levels in our society.
“Generally speaking- self-defense laws create a safe haven for responsible homeowners. Responsible homeowners who defend themselves or their family against attackers are not viewed as criminals – in a clear case of self-defense, they are appropriately seen as heroic. The police are unlikely to charge any crime. If a criminal charge is made, the homeowner is very unlikely to be indicted by a grand jury. If indicted, prosecutors exercise their discretion not to prosecute. The judge (under a relatively new statutory procedure) can, after a hearing on the matter, dismiss the charges by granting immunity prior to trial. In the unlikely event a clear case of self-defense was to be tried before a jury, an acquittal can be expected. Jurors relate to victims and want to be able to defend themselves if necessary.
“The right to bear arms is embedded in our federal and state constitutions and in our national consciousness. These rights in tandem are particularly important in rural areas where law enforcement is not immediately available and homeowners, to have any defense, must provide it for themselves. The law of self-defense together with the right to bear arms - properly exercised - gives to homeowners great power and responsibility over life and death. No one wants to be a victim of a crime and we individually maintain the right to use reasonable force against the force of an intruder.
“The right of self-preservation must be considered in connection with the basic right to life. We value human life. I believe that the right of self-defense can be exercised most wisely by those who speak as often and feel as strongly about the right to life, the right to live and let live, as they do about the right to kill. We cannot allow the legal right to kill to be used by anyone as an excuse to kill those who are only annoying or frustrating or just plain inconvenient.
“Serious criminal and civil penalties must result when someone takes another life without good reason. The legal right to kill should never be taken lightly. If you are clearly wrong in killing another you will probably go to prison, you will be a convicted felon for the rest of your life and you will never be allowed to own a firearm again.
“Courage, knowledge of the law, and the ability to exercise good judgment under pressure are essential elements of self-defense and of responsible gun ownership. The right of self-defense belong to all without qualification – but if you are a coward or your brain stops working when you are afraid, or you are uncertain of when and whether and how to use a gun or how to defend yourself, then I would beg you - please, for the sake of the rest of us, do not own a gun, do not attempt to use deadly force against anyone for any reason. I would add that if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs don’t touch the gun. Leave that job to someone else before you kill an innocent person and ruin your own life. Responsible, sober, selfless and courageous people do not kill without reason.
“Ideas about self-defense are muddled in the minds of many. Half- truths, myths and false tales abound about it. I have heard otherwise sober minded homeowners say:
‘If someone is on my property and I am afraid, I can shoot them.’
‘If someone is on my property without my permission and I have no trespass signs posted, I can shoot them.’
‘If someone is on my property - I can shoot them.’
‘If someone is on my property and I shoot them, I should drag them inside the house.’
‘If someone is stealing from me or damaging my property, I can shoot them.’
“Believing these false “rules” could result in the killing of innocents. Someone with a flat tire at night who seeks help from a homeowner should not be shot to death. That would be a crime and a tragedy no matter what the homeowner was thinking.
“Killing another because you believe you are about to be attacked – even an unreasonable belief – is a defense to murder and first degree manslaughter – but killing another because of a baseless belief - a baseless fear -is still a serious crime. Our society does not honor fear - it was not built on fear. It was built on courage in the face of fear. Our society expects citizens to act responsibly - with courage and common sense in the face of fear. Throughout our history - even in the Wild West - it has been considered dishonorable and cowardly to shoot an unarmed person.
“Everyone should know that killing someone just because they are on your property without permission is legally and morally wrong– killing someone just because you feel fear – an unreasoned fear is legally and morally wrong. Taking another life because someone is taking or damaging your property is legally and morally wrong. We must always value life above property.
“For civilian home defense, people need a simple rule. This is one I suggest: The only time killing another person is legal (justified) is where you observe facts causing you to reasonably believe it is necessary to kill to avoid imminent death or serious physical injury to you or to others. I am paraphrasing statutory law and intentionally stating the rule in old common law terms. Current statutes state the idea in a much too complicated way. There are other self-defense rules about kidnapping and rape and arson but these actually fit within the rule just stated. Keep it simple. Rules about killing must be clear, easy to remember and easily understood. The good news is that ignorance of the law of self-defense does not matter with ordinary responsible citizens. The reality is that ignorance of the law in this arena does not matter with ordinary responsible citizens. Decisions made in the face of an imminent threat are necessarily made quickly and instinctually. Thorough legal analysis is impossible.
“In a threatening situation, most sober-minded citizens are inherently responsible enough and have enough good judgment, humility, compassion and common sense, and respect for the lives and rights of others, so that if they are forced to kill in self-defense, their conduct naturally falls within the protection of the law.
“This case is not about a home invasion or an “altercation” or assault. It is not about “standing your ground.” It is about very bad judgment by a man involved in a love triangle with the victim and their mutual girlfriend. It is about a reckless and deadly combination of several factors. A little lust, a little jealousy, a little self-righteous indignation, a little arrogance, a little pride, a little bravado, a little frustration, a little fear, a little misunderstanding of the law – all infused together with seven to nine beers consumed over 5 to 6 hours. This case is about the unnecessary killing of a human being, Dale Holloway.
“Timothy Claytor is not too different from anyone else. He is not a criminal in the sense most people think of criminals. Looking forward, the risk of his committing another serious crime is low. He would receive little positive benefit from “correctional treatment.” I think he has a conscience that will frequently remind him of his series of poor decisions made in the course of killing Dale Holloway. Some of his statements made in this case indicate that he misunderstood the law: that he believed he had the right to kill just because Dale Holloway was on his property uninvited at night and he had no trespassing signs and because he felt afraid. My comments are not intended to speak negatively of Timothy Claytor as a person; but, I must be very critical of his conduct on August 30, 2012.
“Had Timothy Claytor shot Dale Holloway while Dale Holloway was attempting to forcibly enter the home by breaking the door or forcing it open – or after Dale Holloway had done something to make clear that he intended to attempt to seriously injure or kill Mr. Claytor or Mrs. White - there would have been no conviction – no trial - no indictment - no charge of wrong doing. Timothy Claytor would have been treated as a hero and given sympathy for being innocently put in such a bad situation. But his conduct on that night was not heroic. That night, he did not act with courage and good judgment and a man died as a result. His consumption of alcohol was probably a contributing factor in this tragedy.
Mr. Claytor was clearly aware of his right to shoot in self-defense, although he had an incomplete understanding of it. His actions showed no caution or concern for Dale Holloway’s right to live. Dale Holloway’s death was unnecessary. Mr. Claytor still may not understand his mistake. He has not directly admitted that Dale Holloway’s death was unnecessary. He was acquitted of murder and two degrees of manslaughter only because he acted – at least in part, out of an irrational fear – a recklessly formed belief that he was about to be attacked and that killing Dale Holloway was necessary. He was found guilty of reckless homicide because he was mistaken about the need to use deadly force as the jury found and he was reckless in not recognizing this mistake.
“Even though Mr. Claytor’s mistaken belief about the necessity to use deadly force was a defense to the more serious charges -I cannot respect or excuse Timothy Claytor’s fear or his actions under the circumstances of this case. His fear was practically baseless. I say this knowing that the evidence suggests Dale Holloway was big and gruff and fully capable of intimidating others if he chose to do so.
“Tim and Dale were not strangers. They had known each other for years. They had played pool together and socialized together. Dale visited in the Claytor home with his children. At least one previous interaction involved Dale coming to Tim’s home when their mutual girlfriend, Laura Ann White was there, and yet, throughout their relationship, there were no instances of serious conflict. There was no injury or threat of injury.
“On the night in question, Tim received a telephone call about two minutes before Dale arrived warning him that Dale was coming to his house and was angry, but with no other details. When Tim looked outside and observed Dale approaching his home, he saw that Dale was not armed. Tim immediately chambered a round from the loaded magazine in his pistol. He was inside his home and Dale was still outside. Tim had three firearms - two within reach and one in his hand. In between him and the approaching victim was a door with a deadbolt.
“Mr. Claytor had no duty to retreat, but if he needed time to think – or time to talk to Dale Holloway or to warn him that he was prepared to shoot – all he had to do was turn the dead bolt. If Mr. Holloway attempted to force the door, Mr. Caytor still had the death option available. If he was afraid, he could have chosen not to open the door. Instead he opened the door himself and shot Dale Holloway to death.
“Mr. Claytor had the advantage of weapons the advantage of position and a thorough knowledge of his supposed adversary. He held all the cards. He had several options which he did not consider. He shot an unarmed man without any meaningful attempt at communication. There simply was no objective reason to be so afraid as to immediately kill this man he had known for years.
“The defendant’s actions make it appear that he decided to shoot Dale Holloway at some point before he opened the door and shot him – perhaps when he first saw him outside his home – perhaps when he received the telephone call foretelling Holloway’s arrival about 2 minutes before.
“Mr. Claytor says he did not intend for Dale Holloway to die. This is a difficult proposition to accept. He owned and should have been familiar with his firearms and their capacity to kill. A responsible person defending himself with a gun should know that if you shoot someone twice in the head and once in the torso they are likely to die. This is true no matter how small the firearm or how large the person you shoot.
“Timothy Claytor, I am sentencing you to five years. This penalty for reckless homicide is justified under all of the circumstances as they appear in this case. Probation would unduly depreciate the seriousness of this crime.
Mr. Claytor has the right to appeal the judgment and the jury verdict upon which they are based to the Court of Appeals of Kentucky with the assistance of counsel. An appeal must be taken within thirty days of the entry of this judgment.