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Homeowner claims self-defense in fatal shooting of alleged burglar

The 53-year-old woman told officers the deceased, identified by authorities as Martin Lee Johnson, had broken into her garage and was approaching her.

MINNEAPOLIS — A search warrant filed by Minneapolis police says a homeowner told officers she caught a man breaking into her garage before the alleged intruder was fatally shot on her property Feb. 22. 

The warrant, granted by a judicial official of Hennepin County District Court, said squads were dispatched to a home on the 3300 block of 25th Avenue South just after 8:30 p.m. on multiple reports of a shooting. One of those calls was from the 53-year-old homeowner, who said a man caught burglarizing her garage was shot when he came toward her and reached for his waistband. 

Court documents say arriving officers were greeted by the owner, who walked them out to the backyard where they found the subject, later identified by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office as 30-year-old Martin Lee Johnson, laying face down in the snow. First responders were unable to revive him, and Johnson was declared dead at a local hospital. 

When questioned by investigators the homeowner and her adult son said Johnson had broken into their garage through a side door, and that she fired four warning shots from a handgun to scare him off. They said Johnson instead came toward them and reached toward his waistband, at which time he was shot with a rifle. 

The search warrant does not specify whether it was the homeowner or her son who fired the fatal rifle shot. 

Police say both weapons were in plain view on the main floor of the home. 

The warrant request sought to recover the firearms, video from a doorbell camera, cell phones and corresponding SIM cards, other surveillance video and other evidence from the scene.  

The Hennepin County Attorney's Office tells KARE 11 the case has been deferred pending further investigation, meaning charges won't be filed at this time. However, prosecutors won't rule out the possibility of future charges.

"The details in this case may be more important than in many other cases," said criminal defense attorney Marsh Halberg, who is not affiliated with this case.

Halberg said Minnesota doesn't have a "stand your ground" law but does have a "castle doctrine" self defense law that says you don't have to retreat if you're in your home.

"One of the legal nuances will be, is a detached garage or your yard part of your house?" Halberg said.

Where each person was standing when the trigger was pulled, Halberg says, is very important. Police say a Ring video camera installed on the home points into the backyard where the fatal shooting occurred, and should shed light on how things unfolded.  

In addition, there will be questions to determine whether the shooting was justified.

"The two main questions are – was there a reasonable fear of great bodily harm or death? And was the amount of force used reasonable?" Halberg said.

The homeowner told KARE 11 she can't comment while the investigation is open.

The Hennepin County Attorney's Office does not have a timeline for when to file charges or clear the shooter.

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