KINGMAN - State laws allow Arizonans to defend themselves and their property. It does not, however, give Arizonans the right to use lethal force when an unarmed neighbor simply walks past your "no trespassing" sign and up your driveway.
That's the message a Mohave County jury sent on Thursday when it found Philip John Martin guilty of second-degree murder in the Oct. 18, 2012 shotgun shooting of Steven Schwartz, 55.
"We're not talking about something insignificant here," said prosecutor James Schoppmann in his closing argument. "We're talking about the right to kill."
Schoppmann pointed out inconsistent testimony from what Martin said at his trial and what he told an investigator with the Mohave County Sheriff's Office the night of the killing.
Martin told jurors he was in fear for his life the day he shot Schwartz, but the victim gave him no reason to think that was the case.
Martin, who lives in a trailer on Elgin Road in Golden Valley, did not like people driving past his property to get to a wash that was popular with people who operate all-terrain vehicles.
He would place railroad ties and debris in the road to block it or at least force motorists to drive around the obstacles.
Schwartz had just removed the debris and told his friend he was going to go talk to Martin about the obstructions in the road.
He made it about 61 feet from the road when Martin shot him in the torso with a 12-guage shotgun loaded with double-ought buckshot.
Martin told a deputy, his sister and others that he fired a warning shot before he shot Schwartz, who kept coming up the driveway. Schwartz was about 45 feet from Martin's trailer when Martin, who was standing in his living room, fired through the window.
Martin later recanted the statement, saying he gave Schwartz "his warning shot" about a month earlier.
But if Schwartz and Martin were in a feud, nobody told Schwartz. He left his partially loaded .45-caliber handgun in his Jeep. He even left the Leatherman he kept in a scabbard on his belt in the Jeep when he approached Martin's home.
Martin seemed to take great stock in a "no trespassing" sign he placed on the property, a point Schoppmann picked up in his closing. Holding the sign up for jurors to see, Schoppman said, "This is not a license to kill."
While Schoppmann sought a conviction of first-degree murder, the jury did not think the killing was premeditated.
Jurors did find, however, that Martin's crime was aggravated by the fact he used a deadly weapon. There's also the emotional harm the killing had on Schwartz's children, Steven and Victoria, who are 28 and 22 years old, respectively.
Those aggravating factors could play a role when Judge Derek Carlisle sentences Martin at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 8.
As things stand now, Martin, who has no criminal record, will serve between 10 and 25 years in prison. Because the crime is considered a dangerous crime under Arizona law, Martin must serve all of his sentence.
"Pretty dang worried," said Schoppman when asked if he was afraid the jury would not reach a verdict, given Martin's self-protection defense.
"This was the case where we could say in Arizona we have these rights, but in this case, with these facts - this was the case to say, 'This in not who we are.'"
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