Answers sought to whether killing of 3 Rockdale teens was justified

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Video: Rockdale teens identified in possible self-defense case

A Rockdale County man may have had the right to shoot and kill three teenagers during an alleged robbery attempt, according to a Georgia State University professor.

The “stand your ground” law allows for a person to use deadly force if they feel their life or someone else’s life or their property is in danger, said Russell Covey, a law professor.

“What the stand your ground laws do is say you don’t have to retreat,” Covey told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The deadly shooting that occurred early Monday remained under investigation Wednesday. The Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office has not yet determined whether criminal charges will be filed, Deputy Lee Thomas said late Wednesday.

The teenagers exchanged gunfire with a homeowner on White Oak Court, near Conyers, the Sheriff’s Office previously said. The teens’ faces were covered when they approached the home and attempted to rob three people in the front yard, according to Thomas.

RELEASE: Homeowner shoots, kills 3 who attempted robbery, police say

One of the suspects had a handgun and fired shots at the residents before the homeowner returned fire, Thomas said. The homeowner’s name has not been released.

Neither the homeowner nor the people who lived at the home were injured. But all three teenagers died from their injuries. One of the teens died at the scene and the other two died at a local hospital, Thomas said.

According to the initial incident report, released late Wednesday, multiple people called 911 to report hearing gunfire. Deputies arrived to find one teenager facedown on the ground, laying on a Glock handgun, the report states. The boy was wearing a hoodie with a shirt over it, and the hoodie was tied around his face, according to police.

Deputies then found a second boy on the ground in a nearby cul-de-sac. That boy was bleeding from his head and had an orange bandanna tied over his face, according to police.

On Wednesday, Rockdale Coroner George Levett identified the three boys as Isaiah Reed, Jamie Hernandez and Brandon Gresham. Reed and Hernandez were brothers, Levett said.

The GBI was conducting autopsies on the three, whose ages ranged from 15 to 16, Levett said. All three lived in Conyers, according to police.

Renee Simpson, with Bible Way Worldwide Ministries, said all three teenagers attended Salem High School. Simpson said while she didn’t know the boys or their families, she nonetheless organized a candlelight vigil, and she expects hundreds to attend.

“I have a calling to fulfill as a minister and that’s what I’m doing,” Simpson said Wednesday. “This is a grieving time. … It’s not about me taking sides one way or the other.”

Though professor Covey isn’t involved in the investigation, he said it’s possible that the homeowner will not face charges because he acted in self-defense. If the homeowner believed his life or the lives of others at his home were in danger, he may have lawfully fired at the three teenagers, Covey said.

“The state’s going to take a careful look at all of the facts and circumstances,” Covey said.

Self-defense has been argued in Georgia cases dating back to at least the 1880s, when the state Supreme Court upheld “justifiable homicide.” In 2006, the stand your ground defense was added to state law.

The stand your ground defense was highly publicized following the 2012 death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman argued he shot the 17-year-old in self-defense and was acquitted of murder.

Without all the facts in the Rockdale case, it’s hard to say whether the homeowner broke the law, Covey said. The incident raises the question of whether it makes sense to authorize people to use deadly force in similar situations, he said.

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Three people in masks were shot and killed by a Rockdale County homeowner Monday morning. Investigators haven't said yet if this were part of a home invasion. When deputies arrived at the scene, they found three "young men" on the ground outside a home. One of the three was already dead. Deputies administered first aid to the two other men, but both died at the hospital. Deputies discovered masks on the three young men.