Oklahoma single mother kills intruder in self defense and why it shows the justification for capital punishment

Sarah McKinley, an 18 year old Oklahoma woman whose husband died from cancer on Christmas day found herself in a dangerous situation as two men (one of whom had a large hunting knife) tried to break into her house. When the first man finally broke in, Ms McKinley shot him.

Most people would agree that she was justified in her actions.

Legally, she was justified given that an armed man had broken into her home. Ethically, when there is a life and death situation against a person who is intentionally and willingly trying to cause you harm, you are justified in whatever you need to do to remedy the situation, even going as far as using lethal force.

Basically, the ethics of the situation could be thought of like this: if a person is trying to take the right to life of another person, then the individual who is striving to take away that right to life has relinquished his or her own right to life in the activity of trying to kill someone.

In short: if you try to murder someone, then that person is justified to kill you in self defense.

Now imagine that a murderer successfully commits a murder. Should they be executed? To say “no,” in my opinion, leads to a paradox.

If that murderer succeeds in committing a murder, arguing against the death penalty would mean that the murderer retains their right to life. I feel like this effectively makes the maximum punishment for trying to kill someone more severe than for actually killing someone.

But killing a person is obviously worse than trying to kill someone.

It’s unfortunate that the young woman found herself in such a terrifying situation, but I do think that she did the right thing.


Categories: Ethics, Philosophy

Tags: , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. So would-be murderers deserve less punishment, because they are bad at murdering? Josh, this post is so half-baked. And the connection between this incident and capital punishment is tenuous (to use a charitable term).

  2. Interesting. I agree with Jason . . . I understand where you were going, but the problem is how you got there. Sure, you are talking ethics and philosophy and while I see the logic… I think the approach was tenuous.

    I think your argument should not be limited to suggesting that killing someone is worse than trying to. If there is evidence that you TRIED to kill someone and therefore that you INTENDED to kill them, I think you should also be subjected to capital punishment.

    I am 100% in favor of capital punishment and the death penalty. I think the Government (State or Federal) should let me walk into prisons and execute convicted murderers. (To a certain extent I’m serious… But, let’s ignore the paradox I created and improvidently accept the notion that each convicted murderer is in fact guilty. Let’s also act as though I would be helping society and not…. becoming a murderer)

    Another issue arises with the situation as it is described above involving Ms. McKinley revolves around scumbag attorneys and the current state of the law. (Which varies state-state).

    For instance. In terms of Self-Defense, typically, you can ‘exceed’ the scope’ of your ability to defend yourself. For example, if I threatened to punch Josh in the face and he pulled out a gun shot me in the face, he would not be able to establish that he killed me in ‘self-defense’ and he would be ‘in trouble.’ (Aside from the fact that my punches are deadly and have been compared to those of Mike Tyson, but I digress…)

    Further, in criminal law, if you for instance ‘lie-in-wait’ to commit a crime, this is often seen as an aggravating circumstance that increases the applicable punishment.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the families of the robbers sued Ms. McKinley. Yes, I said it, and yes there are attorneys out there that would file that suit.

    In some States – i.e. Florida, if someone breaks into your house after daylight in almost EVERY circumstance, this would be justified and the ‘burglars’ would have no action. In other states, when the facts occurred as Josh seems to suggest above (Ms. McKinley waited for the Burglar’s to successfully break in, then she shot one of them) individuals merely ‘protecting themselves’ could and have been subjected to lawsuits.

  3. This seems a curious case. Media reports the man with the knife who died had been stalking the woman. But I’ve never heard of a stalker who has a partner. A pair of stalkers? A pair of stalkers that agreed to attack a woman that didn’t know them and together they had a hard time busting through a door of a mobile home? And we have an 18 year old girl that knows how to load, aim, and fire a shotgun with lethal accuracy. Perhaps that’s more common in Oklahoma than in my experience but I think something’s wrong with this story; there’s a connection between these people somewhere.

    • Bill, I really appreciate your insights. You raise some interesting points. Although I would argue that it is possible that two men together would try to attack someone. Both men wouldn’t necessarily be stalkers. It’s actually not uncommon for serial killers to work in pairs. There is always a dominant personality whose too afraid to act, and a submissive personality who is controlled by the dominant person and who can be coerced into doing things the leader wouldn’t personally do. There have been tandems where one person did the stalking and didn’t involved their accomplice until it was time to follow through with the attack. I’m not saying that these two men in Oklahoma were serial killers, but two men attacking is not unheard of.

  4. I think everyone is missing the big picture here. She wasn’t just some random 18 year old. The man saw her at her husband’s funeral with her 3 month old child and tried to approach her. When he finally got someone to do the break in with him, she was at home with her infant and put a couch up against the door.

    And you DO NOT need to be lethally accurate with a shot gun. If you even know how the ammunition works, you would know that. The pellets come out at a spray pattern, you only need to get somewhere close to aiming at your target and you’ll hit them, most likely blowing the limb completely off.

    I do agree that the article was a little lacking in facts, but you get the just of it.

    • Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

    • Brittany, I don’t want to start an argument, although I would point out there a various types of shotguns and various types of cartridges that are used in them. Using a .410 gauge shotgun with bird shot, for example, would hardly be considered deadly in itself. And a slug cartridge is a single projectile that would need to be fired accurately.

      No matter, the mystery is solved, she was taught to shoot and handle the 16 gauge shotgun she used prior to her husbands death. This weapon with buckshot would easily be a man killer at the distance involved.

      Turns out the men breaking in were not after the young woman, they were drug users trying to get there hands on the deceased husband’s pain killing medication (probably Oxycodone). The surviving break-in guy now faces first degree murder charges because there was a death while he was in the process of committing a felony.

      Josh, if you’re reading, in Oklahoma, there’s a possibility the second break-in man could get the death penalty even though he was unarmed. That really messes with the logic of capitol punishment, doesn’t it. I have no opinion.

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