ROME — The man who shot and killed a home invader Saturday in Rome has a history of violence, but that might not matter when it comes to defending one’s home against an intruder, according to criminal defense attorneys.

Police said today they are still investigating the Saturday night incident in which Richard Duffy, 48, shot and killed Christopher Dennison, 44, of Livermore Falls, who entered the home wearing a ski mask and brass knuckles.

The two men got into a “brief altercation” in the living room of Duffy’s trailer on Foss Hill Lane, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Duffy’s teenage son was also in the home at the time of the shooting, which happened around 8 p.m., but neither Duffy nor his son was injured.

State records show Duffy has been found guilty of many crimes, including five assaults, but most of them occurred at least 10 years ago. The sole exception is an assault in Oakland earlier this year.

Dennison’s record includes no violent crimes, but a recent charge of operating under the influence, and a theft 25 years ago.

Dennison’s wife, Cherie Thibault, told WGME television that Dennison was paid to go to the residence to scare or possibly beat Duffy so he would repay an outstanding debt owed to a third party. Thibault did not respond to requests for comment.

A second man was sitting in Dennison’s car outside the home when Dennison went inside, McCausland said. When the second man, whose name police have not released, heard the gunfire, he fled, McCausland said. Police investigators later tracked him down and interviewed him, and McCausland said he probably will be interviewed again as part of the investigation.

There have been no further developments and no affidavits filed in the case, McCausland said today.

Dennison’s record shows one conviction. He was fined $90 in 1988 by the Portland District Court for theft by receiving stolen property.

In May, he was charged with operating under the influence after crashing his motorcycle on Route 27 in Pittston, according to police reports.

A criminal history check on Duffy showed 13 convictions between 1987 and 2003, for crimes including four cases of assault as well as terrorizing, violating a protection-from-harassment order, criminal threatening, criminal mischief, theft by deception and disorderly conduct. For the crimes, all misdemeanors, he received a variety of sentences ranging from a $100 fine to 90 days in jail.

There were no cases involving Duffy in the state database after 2003 until earlier this year, when in August, a Kennebec County Superior Court judge ordered Duffy to pay a $500 fine for assault and criminal mischief on Feb. 1 in Oakland.

Deadly force at home

Jim Billings, an Augusta attorney who teaches self-defense at the University of Maine in Augusta and as part of a self-defense law class, would not comment on this specific case, but said the law allows use of deadly force in more situations in the home than outside it.

“If you’re in a public place, you have a duty to retreat,” he said. “If you’re in your home, you don’t have a duty to retreat.”

Billings said the homeowner can’t be the person who has provoked the confrontation, and the homeowner’s decision to use force must be objectively reasonable, meaning that other reasonable people would come to the same conclusion.

Billings said police and prosecutors look at the circumstances surrounding the shooting, which can vary considerably.

“There’s a big difference between 2 in the afternoon and 2 in the morning,” he said. “If the person that’s dead when the police show up is your ex-wife’s new boyfriend and doesn’t have a weapon on him, then you probably have a lot of explaining to do. If they’re high on methamphetamines and have a shotgun on them and a big sack to use while robbing your house, that’s different.”

Online, Duffy has drawn significant praise for defending his home and his family against Dennison.

The shooting has been reported by media outlets across the country and has been circulated as an example of a justifiable use of deadly force on a number of websites, including freerepublic.com, bearingarms.com and yeehee.com.

The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment.

Chris Nielsen, a criminal defense lawyer with Nielsen Group Law in Biddeford, said cases involving homeowners, guns and criminal trespassers are often cited in relation to debates about gun rights and gun control.

He said that under Maine law, there are gray areas about the right to shoot a home invader.

Technically, he said, according to the state’s criminal code, deadly force may be used when the person reasonably believes such force is necessary to prevent someone who is criminally trespassing from committing another crime. If the crime is not a physical attack, but something like theft, the homeowner is required to give the person a warning before using deadly force.

However, Nielsen said, prosecutors and juries would recognize a difference between a person who is a physical threat and someone who is committing a lesser crime, such as theft.

“If they’re escaping out the back window and you shoot them in the back, you’ve got a problem,” Nielsen said. “If they’re setting fire to your house, they’ve got a problem.”

In this case, Nielsen said, the details released by police point to an unambiguous case of self-defense.

“If the guy’s attacking you, and the individual has brass knuckles, I think you have very good reason to think he’s threatening your life,” he said.

Billings said the statute that allows homeowners to use deadly force to prevent a crime, instead of using it to protect themselves, is rarely relevant.

“It’s kind of an anachronism,” he said. “I can’t think of a situation in current times when, if you were in your house and someone was committing a crime, where you wouldn’t feel your life was also in danger.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com