Retired Green Beret shoots intruder, gets court martial
BREVARD, Jan. 19, 2008 - Retired Army Green Beret James T. (Smokey) Taylor got his court martial this weekend and came away feeling pretty good about it.
Taylor, at age 79, is one of the oldest members of Chapter XXXIII (The Larry Thorne Chapter) of the Special Forces Association. He was placed on trial by fellow Chapter XXXIII members under the charge of "failing to use a weapon of sufficient caliber" in the shooting of an intruder at his home in Knoxville, TN, in November.
The court martial, of course, was very much tongue in cheek. The event itself was deadly serious.
Taylor had been awakened in the early morning hours of November 5, 2007,when an intruder broke into his home. He investigated the noises with one of his many weapons in hand.
"It was just after Halloween, on Monday morning at 4:30," Taylor said. I,heard this commotion at the door and grabbed my fishing gun, a little .22 revolver, to see what was going on. I got to the front door and this fellow had ripped my security door out of its frame. He said, 'you're going to have to kill me. I'm coming in.'"
When a warning to leave went unheeded, Taylor brought his .22 caliber pistol to bear and shot him right between the eyes.
"I was about four feet away from him when I shot," Taylor said. "Looking back now, I'm glad he didn't die, but that boy had the hardest head I've ever seen. The bullet bounced right off."
The impact knocked the would-be thief down momentarily. He crawled out of the house then got up and ran down the street. Taylor dialed 911 and Knoxville police apprehended the wounded man about 200 yards away, hiding in a hedgerow.
Complicating the case, as well as the court martial, the offender was released on bail but failed to appear for his court date. Knoxville police said the man was homeless. They did not know his whereabouts or why he had been given bail.
The charges brought against Taylor by his fellow Green Berets were considered to be serious. He is a retired Special Forces Weapons Sergeant with extensive combat experience during the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
"Charges were brought against him under the premise that he should have saved the county and taxpayers the expense of a trial," said Chapter XXXIII President Bill Long of Asheville, NC.
The trial was held at the Hampton Inn in Brevard, part of the group's regularly scheduled quarterly meeting. Long appointed a judge, Bert Bates, a defense counsel, Jim Hash, and a prosecutor, Charlie Ponds. All are retired Special Forces non-commissioned officers with extensive combat and weapons experience.
Ponds outlined the case against Taylor, emphasizing that the citizens of Knox County were going to be burdened with significant costs to again apprehend, and then prosecute and defend the would-be burglar.
"Proper choice of a larger caliber gun would have spared the citizens this financial burden," Ponds said, "while removing one bad guy from the streets for good. He could have used a .45 or .38. The .22 just wasn't big enough toget the job done. Hash disagreed. He said Taylor had done the right thing in choosing to arm himself with a .22.
"If he'd used a .45 or something like that the round would have gone right through the perp, the wall, the neighbor's wall and possibly injured some innocent child asleep in its bed. I believe the evidence shows that Smokey Taylor exercised excellent judgment in his choice of weapons. He clearlyremains to this day an excellent weapons man."
Hash then floated a theory as to why the bullet bounced off the perp's forehead.
"He was victimized by old ammunition," he said, "just as he was in Korea and again in Vietnam, when his units were issued ammo left over from World WarII."
Taylor said nothing in his own defense, choosing instead to allow his peers to debate the matter. The jury, consisting of all the members of the Chapter, discussed the merits of choosing a larger caliber weapon as well as the obvious benefits to society of permanently deleting the intruder so he would never again threaten any private citizen.
The other side of the coin, that of accidentally causing injury to a completely innocent citizen if a more powerful gun had been used, also gained considerable support.
Following testimony from both sides, Judge Bates determined the charges should be dismissed. The decision was met with a round of applause. In fact, there was strong sentiment expressed that Taylor should receive an award for not only choosing wisely in picking up the .22, but for the accuracy of his aim under difficult and dangerous conditions.
After the trial Taylor said the ammunition was indeed old and added the new information that the perp had soiled his pants as he crawled out the door.
"I would have had an even worse mess to clean up if it had gone through his forehead," Taylor said. "It was good for both of us that it didn't."
Meanwhile, back in Knox County, the word is out: Don't go messing with Smokey Taylor. He just bought a whole bunch of fresh ammo.
Tribune Editor Bill Fishburne is a member of the Larry Thorne Chapter XXXIII of the Special Forces Association.