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Homeowner cleared of charges in shooting of intruder

Originally ran here as:
"Homeowner cleared in fatal shooting of intruder"
by Doug Guthrie, The Grand Rapids Press
Michigan Live
December 19, 2001

First report posted here on KABA, November 28, 2001 as:
Man Shot By Homeowner Was Facing Felony Charges -- including home invasion -- and how he's facing his maker

CEDAR SPRINGS, MICHIGAN -- A Cedar Springs homeowner will not face charges for killing a drunken intruder last month on his back porch.

Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth said in an opinion issued this morning that Robert James Clarke, 48, acted in self-defense early Nov. 24 when he fatally shot Kevin Lee Salinas, 22.

Still, Forsyth called the death an unnecessary tragedy.

"It is human nature to second-guess how this drunken kid might still be alive if Mr. Clarke hadn't stepped outside to confront him," Forsyth said.

Although Robert and Valerie Clarke were awakened shortly before 3:30 a.m. by the sound of someone rattling windows and doors at their home, 153 Pine St., Forsyth said there was no evidence Salinas intended to commit a burglary or a crime of violence.

Salinas, whose blood-alcohol level was 21/2 times the legal limit, ran from police outside a Cedar Springs bar an hour earlier. Getting caught drunk would have resulted in Salinas being taken to jail because he was out on bond for a July charge of allegedly breaking into a home, assaulting his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, then fleeing from police and resisting arrest.

Forsyth theorized Salinas may have thought he would have been caught again by police when he reportedly said, "We've already been through this before," when Robert Clarke shined a flashlight on him stumbling around the Clarkes' back yard.

"But that doesn't change the perception in the minds of the Mr. and Mrs. Clarke," Forsyth said. "They were awakened early in the morning by someone at the windows and door. They had five kids in the house and there is a drunken, incoherent man in their back yard who keeps coming at them even when he (Robert Clarke) has a gun pointed at him.

"The tragedy is, had he not gone outside to confront him, this kid probably would have simply staggered away. But there is nothing illegal about going outside your house," Forsyth said.

Michigan law allows homeowners to use deadly force to defend themselves and their family from imminent danger in the home. A case decided last year by Michigan's Court of Appeals defined a porch as part of the home in self-defense cases.

Neither Clarke nor his attorney, Frank Hillary, could be reached for comment this morning. Relatives of Salinas also were not available for comment.

The ruling angered friends of Salinas. "That is not right, that is totally wrong," said Arlene Allred, 33, of Cedar Springs, a long-time friend with whom Salinas lived for four years.

It was Allred's house that Salinas broke into in July after his girlfriend broke up with him, Allred said.

"Kevin was harmless," she said. "He had no weapon. He was running from the police to begin with. He (Clarke) could have shot him in the foot or the leg. He didn't even fire a warning shot.

"Something has to be done with him. He's walking away from clean murder."

Forsyth said his review of the incident shows Robert Clarke confronted Salinas in the yard and told him to leave the property. Clarke then retreated into his house to arm himself with his registered 9-mm handgun when Salinas started walking toward him.

Robert Clarke stepped through an open sliding glass door from the bedroom to the deck with the gun.

Valerie Clarke dialed 911 and watched as Salinas walked onto an attached deck about 4 or 5 feet from her husband before Robert Clarke fired a single shot at Salinas' mid-section.

The sound of the shot is clearly heard on a tape recording of the dramatic nine-minute phone conversation Valerie Clarke had with a Kent County Sheriff's Department emergency dispatcher.

Forsyth said he spent five hours listening to the tape before making his decision to not charge Robert Clarke. He said it is clear the Clarkes felt threatened.

"All you have to do is listen to that tape and you can hear the impact on the Clarkes. She is terrified," Forsyth said.

In the final seconds before the fatal shot, Robert Clarke backed so close to the bedroom's sliding door that his voice could be heard on the tape warning Salinas, "Son, you better sit down.

After the gunshot, Valerie Clarke told the dispatcher that her husband fired a shot at the intruder. The dispatcher advised the Clarkes to stay inside, lock the doors and put the gun away. Valerie Clarke told the dispatcher that her husband put the gun in a drawer.

During the next seven minutes, the dispatcher questioned Valerie Clarke, who cried and described how Salinas was bleeding from his side. She said he attempted to stand, then crawled from the deck to the back yard.

"Please, please, please hurry," Valerie Clarke pleaded.

Deputies arrived 71/2 minutes after the dispatcher received the call. Salinas was semi-conscious in the back yard.

A bloodstain was on the deck where Robert Clarke said he shot Salinas, who died eight hours later at Spectrum Health's Butterworth Campus.

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