Murder in self-defense

I’m ambivalent about this story: Nurse Kills Intruder with Bare Hands.

A 51 year old emergency nurse came home from a late-night shift to find an intruder armed with a hammer in her home, and in a struggle she strangled him to death. He had a long criminal record. One side of me is cheering for her for defending herself against harm, and the message that women are capable of using deadly harm to defend themselves might do some good generally in discouraging predatory men.

On the other side, I don’t approve of killing people unnecessarily. She’s a nurse, she obviously knew that by continuing the stranglehold beyond the time when he was unconscious that she was killing him (a stranglehold has to be maintained for several minutes after unconsciousness before death will occur). That’s a huge physical effort to maintain, even for a 5’7″ 260-pound woman whose job makes her strong.

Why couldn’t she have tied him up once she’d made him unconcscious and waited for law enforcement?

Is it possible that she was so adrenalin-rushed that she didn’t realise how much time was passing? Or that she wasn’t sure whether he was pretending to be unconscious, and was concerned that he would attack her again if she let go? Certainly. But that doesn’t strike me as the typical reaction of an emergency-nurse, who are trained and experienced in weighing alternatives and realistic outcomes in crisis situations. I know there is a vengeful side of myself that might well act in the same way if I had an armed intruder at my mercy. I don’t like that side of me very much, hence my ambivalence.

Still, I am glad that Susan Kuhnhausen protected herself, and that Edward Dalton Haffey will not hurt anyone else.



Categories: Life

6 replies

  1. She’s a nurse, and experienced at weighing alternatives, but she felt personally threatened. I can see thinking “Should I let go now? But what if he wakes up?”
    Tie him up? I wouldn’t leave him alone unconscious on my floor while I went to find something to tie him with. Imagine the nightmare if you got back to the kitchen to find him gone.
    I can see feeling that you couldn’t dare stop while he was still breathing.
    I think it’s insane in any case to expect someone in this kind of situation to keep his or her head enough to coolly appraise the situation and stop when the perp is incapacitated but not dead yet.

  2. You’re right of course. I guess my reaction is a fear that I might one day do the same, and unless the perp was an irredeemable violent creep I would regret it.
    In principle, I’m very strongly in favour of restraining someone you’ve overpowered rather than killing them. But I don’t know whether I would be able to stick to that principle in a real situation.

  3. “One side of me is cheering for her for defending herself against harm, and the message that women are capable of using deadly harm to defend themselves might do some good generally in discouraging predatory men.”
    I find that statement a little odd – it almost seems to condone needless killing in order to prove a gender point. I mean, I can understand from whence the notion springs, but to take it to the point of articulation seems to bestow some (however small) validity upon the idea.
    If it takes minutes after loss of consciousness to kill a person that you have in a strangle hold then that, whether the ‘gripper’ be man or woman, is murder.

  4. I think that oddity you detect is at the heart of my ambivalence, DQ. Women are advised to not fight back when attacked so that we don’t make our attacker so angry that he kills us. Repeatedly this advice washes over us. Yet is this the best advice?
    The only reason this fatality got international press at all is that it’s the woman victim who is alive this time – it’s a man-bites-dog story. It’s hard not to believe that if our male attackers felt that they might be killed by us that perhaps there wouldn’t be so many attacks. (Referring only to predatory stranger attacks here – the far greater problem of relationship violence is a different issue and not so highly gendered).
    Also, as Vicki and I both pointed out, a nurse although crisis-trained is not combat-trained, and may well have felt that to let go was unsafely leaving herself open to further attack. She may have been right, too. Merely because I find the death of her attacker disturbing doesn’t mean she was wrong to kill him.

  5. I have this argument in an ongoing sort of way with one of my closest friends, who is a lefty lawyer. She is so deeply embedded in the advocate role that she automatically springs to the defence of home invaders (victims of society — won’t hear of the possiblity that some of them might just be bad bastards) and runs the line about crimes against property vs crimes against the person: ‘You weren’t in physical danger, they were only after your property, you weren’t hurt.’ There’s a direct good-lefty vs feminist clash here. She can’t see it, and won’t engage with the gender dimension.
    Sorry but I don’t buy this. My line in our most recent go-around of this argument was ‘I would argue that I am in fact quite damaged by finding jemmy marks and popped locks on my bedroom window, or by hearing someone walking around in my back yard at 3 am.’ To which she replies that I am paranoid. (I live alone — unlike her.)
    Given the adrenalin levels when I have a prowler, as I have had half a dozen times, I fear that I might indeed kill him if I got the chance. It wouldn’t be a conscious decision, just a desperate me-or-him thing. In those situations one just is not thinking straight, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be thinking ‘Oh dear, this poor man probably comes from a broken home, I’ll just hand my mum’s rings right over and then I’ll make him a cup of tea.’

  6. That last comment was pretty funny ^w^, I have to say that you all make for some very compelling arguements. I, however, do mostly agree with Pavlov’s Cat and tigtog on this point. One does not know how to react outside of instinct if their life is threatened. Training or not the primal instinct to live…the WILL to live is strongest at the moment your life is in danger. The only thing the nurse training does is to control the thought process on what actions you are to take in crisis situations to save another persons life…*Normally a patient but who am I to discriminate <3*…but should the crisis be YOUR life then all that methodical thought processing kind of goes down the toilet.

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