An Army Green Beret crossed the line into vigilantism when he shot an intruder three times in the back in his detached garage, prosecutors charged last week at a trial expected to test the limits of Colorado’s “make my day” law.
Michael Joseph Galvin, 35, faces a single count of negligent homicide in the Nov. 3, 2016, killing of Robert Carrigan on the city’s west side. If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison.
According to Galvin’s defense attorneys, who identified him as a 12-year member of an Army Special Forces unit, he is guilty of little more than trying to protect himself, his wife and their two young children.
“This shooting was completely reasonable and completely justified,” Julia Stancil of Denver told an El Paso County jury during opening statements Wednesday, saying that Carrigan could have turned one of his burglary tools into a weapon in a moment’s notice.
Prosecutors acknowledged that the case is likely to hinge on interpretations of Colorado’s controversial law providing legal protections to homeowners who use deadly force against intruders.
But those protections are limited to dwellings, defined by state law as buildings “used, intended to be used, or usually used by a person for habitation” — raising the pivotal issue of whether a detached garage qualifies.
The presiding district judge, Jann DuBois, rejected a defense petition to toss charges against Galvin under the Homeowner Protection Act, commonly known as make my day, leaving a criminal jury to resolve the issue at trial.
In this case, the garage is set back 25 feet from Galvin’s house. Rather than call police, the defendant chose to leave the safety of his home to confront the intruder, prosecutor Sam Burney said. Armed with a 9 mm pistol equipped with a flashlight, Galvin fired five to six rounds as Carrigan tried to flee through the garage door, she said.
“You didn’t have to do that, man!” Burney shouted throughout her presentation, turning what she called Carrigan’s dying words into a refrain.
The deadly showdown occurred about 10 p.m. in the 700 block of West St. Vrain Street, less than two weeks after the Galvin family had purchased the 1,100 square foot ranch style home in a tree-lined neighborhood.
Galvin and his wife, who works in Air Force intelligence, had put their children to bed and were watching television when Galvin left the house to investigate why his mountain bike, which had been in his garage, was now lying in his backyard.
While prosecutors said Carrigan was unarmed and posed no safety threat, Stancil said he had a vest “filled with burglary tools literally classified as deadly weapons in Colorado.”
She pointed out that Galvin didn’t know how many people were involved or whether they intended to break into the house as well. She said Galvin rushed into the night wearing boxer shorts and no shoes.
Stancil disputed that her client shot Carrigan in the back, saying that defense experts will testify that he was standing in profile, facing Galvin in what she called a martial arts stance. She said Carrigan was trying to reach for his weapon.
She also took aim at a neighbor’s report to police that she heard Galvin’s wife shout, “Why did you do that?” Stancil said Galvin’s wife left the house with her children as she dialed 911 and didn’t know that a shooting had occurred.
Prosecutors dismissed the claim that Carrigan could have reached for Galvin’s gun. They displayed oversize photographs of the garage’s interior, showing that it was loaded up with belongings piled between the defendant and the intruder, including children’s toys, boxes, plastic storage bins, a love seat, a trailer, a tangled garden hose and other items. Three police officers testified there was no clear path between one man and the other.
Carrigan was “no angel,” but he deserved the same protection under the law as anyone else, Burney said.
“The defendant decided what was going to happen that night,” Burney said. “He made the choice.”
Galvin was indicted in April 2016 by a 10-2 vote by an El Paso County grand jury, which concluded that he failed to provide adequate warning before firing on Carrigan.
Stancil repeatedly referred to Galvin as a Green Beret and said he serves as an Arabic language expert tasked with facilitating communications in the field. He also operates radio equipment and other electronic devices, she said.
Although she did not specify his unit, Fort Carson is home to 10th Special Forces Group. A representative wasn’t available Wednesday evening to confirm if he remains in the unit.
The trial is expected to conclude this week.
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