Mother of Man Shot Dead During Truck Break-In Outraged - NBC 7 San Diego

Mother of Man Shot Dead During Truck Break-In Outraged



    Charges Unlikely for Man Who Shot Truck Thief

    NBC 7's Wendy Fry spoke with a criminal defense attorney who explained the legal protections for homeowners trying to protect their property. (Published Tuesday, March 13, 2018)

    The mother of a suspected vehicle burglar said she's outraged police are not pursuing charges against the El Cajon homeowner who fatally shot her son.

    Early Sunday morning, an El Cajon resident said he shot someone he believed was breaking into his truck. In the midst of a confrontation, the homeowner said he fired off several shots from a .357 revolver style handgun.

    El Cajon police said the burglar was shot but escaped in another stolen truck he had driven to the crime scene on Chase Avenue.

    Suspect Joseph Mecurio then crashed into a home near Mona Place and died.

    "Just because you break into someone's car, doesn't mean you can be killed," said Mecurio's mother, Monika Anderson.

    But former District Attorney, now a Criminal Defense Attorney, Paul Pfingst said unbeknownst to the majority of the public, California law says you can actually be killed just for breaking into someone's car.

    "In the state of California, you are allowed to defend your property. You've worked for your property," Pfingst said. "A person's car could be critical to their livelihood and you don't have to let someone steal your property. You're allowed to stop them."

    Pfingst said that includes using deadly force if the attempted burglary or other crime a person is trying to stop is a felony.

    Whether or not the break-in attempt was a felony could be a question El Cajon police are trying to answer in their investigation. Lt. Walt Miller said there is no indication a second suspect was involved in the incident. But, Mercurio brought a stolen vehicle to the scene, and it's unclear whether he intended to leave it there. 

    If Mercurio were trying to steal homeowner, Michael Po's truck, it would be a felony. But, if he were only trying to break into it, that could be a misdemeanor.

    Police said a confrontation ensued between the two men when the homeowner, Po, tried to stop Mercurio from breaking into his truck. If Mercurio threatened Po with any violence, that brings his actions back up to a felony, no matter what his intentions were with Po's truck.

    "He's never been violent in his entire life," his mother Monika Anderson said. Anderson said her son is a heroin addict and was probably looking for drugs or money in the truck to steal. 

    Anderson would not say how or why she suspects that. She said Mercurio has been trying to get sober since his twin brother overdosed in 2011 and has been in and out of eight rehab centers.

    "He wanted to get sober so bad," she said.

    Anderson said Mercurio was the best son anyone could hope for and leaves behind a 6-year-old daughter.

    Pfingst said the bottom line is the law protects property owners and places the risk for criminal activity on the criminals.

    "If someone wants to steal your property and it's felony property, you don't have to run away," Pfingst said. "And you don't have to let them walk away with your property. You're allowed to fight and defend your property and you're allowed to use deadly force to do it under the law."

    El Cajon police have said it is unlikely charges will be filed against Po.

    NBC 7 investigated Mercurio's criminal history, finding no convictions for violent crimes, as his mother said.

    Mercurio was charged with a handful of felony and misdemeanor drug and paraphernalia possession charges, along with DUI charges between 2005 and 2014.

    The District Attorney's office has not yet received the case. That is the agency that will ultimately decide whether any charges will be filed.