65-Year-Old City Man Acted in Self-Defense in Killing, Wounding of Teens, DA Says

Reading Eagle, January 27, 2012

A 65-year-old Reading man who was riding his bicycle was justified in shooting two teens—one fatally—who tried to rob him on a Schuylkill River trail as part of a crime spree, the Berks County district attorney said Thursday.

The teens, age 16 and 15, and another 15-year-old boy skipped school Wednesday and robbed two pedestrians in West Reading before they attacked the man as he rode on the Thun Trail in Cumru Township at 11 a.m., police said.

The man, whose name authorities withheld, will not be charged for shooting the teens because he acted in self-defense, which is legal under Pennsylvania’s Castle Doctrine, District Attorney John T. Adams said.

“While I don’t condone violence, the bike rider had no choice,” Adams said. “It was justifiable homicide.”

Julius Johnson, 16, of Reading was pronounced dead at the scene Wednesday morning after he was shot in his chest with a handgun, officials said.

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The 15-year-old shot in the neck remained in Reading Hospital on Thursday, officials said. Information about his medical condition could not be obtained. Police did not release his name because he has not been charged.

The third teen, Michael Gonzalez, 15, address unavailable, was charged with robbery, aggravated assault and related offenses and committed to the county youth center in Bern Township.

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Adams gave this account:

Johnson was on probation for previous offenses. Juvenile probation officers had gone to his Oakbrook residence earlier Wednesday and found the three teens playing video games.

They told the two 15-year-olds to leave. The officers put an electronic monitoring device on Johnson’s ankle, ordered him to stay home and report to their office with his parents at 4 p.m.

Instead, the three met up and decided to jump and rob random victims.

They first robbed an elderly man in West Reading shortly after 10 a.m., taking money from his pockets, then tried to rob another man in West Reading, kneeing him in the stomach and pushing him to the ground. Neither man was hurt.

The bike rider was on the trail between Reading and West Reading.

As he rode past the teens, the 15-year-old whose name was not released punched the man in the face, knocking him from his bike. Johnson ran and kicked the man, who was sitting against a chain-link fence along the trail.

As one of the teens ran toward the man, he shot Johnson and the 15-year-old.

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The teens weren’t armed, but the shootings were legal because the man was unable to escape, thought his life was in danger and had a permit to carry his gun, Adams said.

The man told investigators: “I was scared for my life. I was in big trouble. If I could have kept my bike on the trail, I would have gotten out of there.”

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Adams did not know if Johnson’s monitoring device had GPS tracking capabilities or if it simply triggered an alarm when he left his home. Adams said juvenile probation officers acted appropriately.

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Adams said he has heard from many people in the community that the bicyclist was a hero for successfully defending himself.

“When your life is in danger, you have no choice but to use deadly force,” he said.

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