A man in Georgia who shot to death a lost 72-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease will not face charges.
"I'm upset," the victim’s widow, Deanne Westbrook, told the Los Angeles Times shortly after Friday's announcement. "But there wasn't enough evidence to convict this man even though he shot an innocent man."
Deanne Westbrook woke up about 5 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving and realized her husband of 51 years wasn’t with her. She was getting dressed to go look for him when someone knocked on the door. It was detectives, who said her husband had been killed.
"As far as I'm concerned, my husband didn't deserve to die," she said. "He was looking for some help."
Ronald Westbrook had woken up sometime before 4 a.m., opened several locks and deadbolts, and wandered nearly three miles across Chickamauga, Ga. Alarms rang, but Deanne Westbrook, 70, didn’t hear them.
Ronald Westbrook knocked on the door and rang the bell of a random home, leading a woman in the house to call 911, authorities said. As officers were dispatched, Westbrook moved to the house's backyard.
The woman's fiance, Joe Hendrix, shot Westbrook in the chest with a handgun. Four shots were fired, according to news reports. Police said Westbrook didn't heed commands from Hendrix, 35, to stop moving closer.
Alzheimer's limited Westbrook's speech, according to his widow, and he had been holding something in his hand. Deanne Westbrook said it turned out to be mail that he had grabbed from people's mailboxes. He may also have had a flashlight. The Westbrooks' two dogs were also in the Hendrix backyard.
Hendrix had the gun with him because his fiancee had to call 911 a few days before because another man had come to her door looking for someone, Deanne Westbrook said.
Georgia's "stand your ground" law allows people who reasonably feel threatened to fire shots. Some lawmakers have called for its repeal, but legislative action has stalled. A federal lawsuit is targeting the statute's constitutionality.
Ronald Westbrook had wandered away in the middle of the night three or four times before, but never that far, his widow said. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in June 2011, and the condition had been growing worse. But she said it wasn't so bad that he needed to be in a nursing home. He could still dress himself, for example.
"It's just one of those unfortunate things -- I never thought he would die like that," Deanne Westbrook said. She has no plans to file a lawsuit against Hendrix, and she said Catoosa County Dist. Atty. Buzz Franklin would still get her vote.
"I really felt they should take this before a grand jury and let them decide, but the prosecutor's just doing his job,” Deanne Westbrook said.
Ronald Westbrook had been a pilot, an airport manager and a power company worker, she said. He was also survived by three adult sons.
"I'm so proud of him that he was able to do all he was able to," Deanne Westbrook said. "I don’t know what else I could have done or what anyone else could've done. I'm sorry I didn't wake up when he did."