Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Should 80-year-old homeowner be charged with murder?

By Ruben Navarrette
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2304 GMT (0704 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Police say Tom Greer, 80, shot to death intruder who said, "Don't shoot, I'm pregnant"
  • Ruben Navarrette: But when he shot her, Greer was no longer in imminent danger
  • Greer said he shot Miller in the back, then shot her again when she was pleading
  • Navarrette: She was not pregnant, but Greer would not have known that at the time

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor, Daily Beast columnist, and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

San Diego (CNN) -- Tom Greer is an 80-year-old crime victim who had the absolute right to use deadly force to defend himself when a pair of burglars -- a man and a woman -- broke into his home in Long Beach, California, and began assaulting him. And yet, if there is any justice, the 80-year-old should spend the remainder of his golden years in prison.

That's because he killed 28-year-old Andrea Miller, who begged for her life, telling Greer: "Don't shoot me, I'm pregnant! I'm going to have a baby!"

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Not true, according to the L.A. County Coroner's Office. Miller was not pregnant. But Greer didn't know when he pulled the trigger -- for a second time.

The homeowner, who has been robbed before, told police that he returned home one night and found Miller and her accomplice, who has been identified as 26-year-old Gus Adams, trying to open his safe. Greer said they immediately attacked him and threw him to the ground, breaking his collarbone. While the intruders were distracted, Greer got up and retrieved his .22 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver. When Miller and Adams saw he was armed, he said they ran out of the house.

Greer told a Los Angeles television station that he pursued the intruders outside and into a nearby alley, gun in hand.

First mistake. He told KNBC: "When the time comes to defend yourself, you best do something." But, at this point, Greer was no longer defending himself because he wasn't in imminent danger. And he was not protecting his home. Instead, he was stalking his prey.

Then, Greer told the television station, he fired on the burglars, hitting Miller in the back.

Second mistake. If Greer shot Miller in the back, it makes it hard for him to argue that he wasn't in control of the situation and that somehow he felt threatened by Miller.

Finally, Greer said with no remorse, as Adams ran off, Miller pleaded for her life and claimed to be pregnant. But Greer fired off another shot anyway, killing her.

Third mistake. Since Miller wasn't really pregnant, we can assume that she was just trying to save her own skin. Maybe Greer believed her, or maybe he didn't. What matters is this: With the suspect already wounded and bleeding, Greer should have called police and waited for them to arrive. He didn't do that.

Instead, he meted out his own punishment. Was that because Greer was angry and frustrated at being victimized and wanted retribution? If so, that's not a good excuse for taking a life.

Adams has been found and arrested on suspicion of murder for taking part in a crime that led to Miller's death. His arraignment is scheduled for August 11.

Given that we're talking about an 80-year-old crime victim who grabbed a gun with the intent to defend himself, there are clearly extenuating circumstances. But they are not enough to let Greer avoid taking some responsibility for killing Miller.

He's a victim, but not a completely innocent one. The fact that he was robbed and beaten doesn't excuse everything that happened next. Greer pursued Miller out of his house and into the alley. He shot her in the back. And then, with her lying wounded on the ground and pleading for her life -- and still not clear on whether or not she was really pregnant -- he fired the fatal shot.

This wasn't premeditated, but neither was it a spontaneous crime of passion. During this entire ordeal, Greer had plenty of time to think about what was happening and how to react. He chose to react by shooting down someone who was no longer fleeing and no longer a threat to him.

By firing the fatal shot at someone who was alone, unarmed, wounded, defenseless and pleading for her life, Greer committed a cold-blooded act.

Let's be clear. If you confront a burglar in your home, and you feel your life is in danger, and you grab a gun to defend yourself and kill that person, most reasonable people could consider that to be a justified use of deadly force. This is not that. And it cheapens the right to self-defense to apply that label to what happened here.

Because his crime wasn't premeditated, Greer shouldn't be charged with first-degree murder. Second-degree will suffice. And if it is proved in court that he punitively and needlessly took a life, then he should be locked up for the rest of his.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT