Durham County

Homeowner isn't charged in shooting

At 10:45 a.m. on a Friday, Charles Dellerman's alarm went off.

Groggy after working late the night before, he tapped the snooze button and slipped back under the covers.

First he heard the neighbor's dog barking. Then he heard a loud "bang, crash, boom" downstairs in his two-story home near Research Triangle Park.

"My first thought is, 'I can't call anybody because my phone is downstairs on my desk, in the kitchen,'" said Dellerman, who teaches photography at Durham Technical Community College and in his home studio.

About a year ago, Dellerman was working upstairs when someone started ringing the door bell. By the time he made it downstairs, he saw another man looking in his back window as "if he was casing the place." That time Dellerman called the police but ultimately ran the two men off.

But on Dec. 10, Dellerman said, he had no choice.

He walked down the stairs, holding his handgun in front of him. In his living room, curtains drawn to save heat, he saw three tall men.

"And then I heard something like 'Get him!' and they started coming at me," he said.

Dellerman fired. Five bullet holes were later found in his floor, window and armoire, he said. He hit all three of the men, he would later learn.

"I was in fear for my life," he said. "I am not someone who gets into gunfights. I am not someone that gets into fights, period. But my life was being threatened."

Timothy Nelson, 17, shot in the left buttocks, was arrested after he knocked on a neighbor's door for help and was taken to UNC Hospitals.

Omari Mitchell, 20, who was shot in the right lower hip, and Grady Brady Jr., 19, who was shot in the left arm, were driven to Duke Hospital by Devine Thorpe, 20, who was waiting in the getaway car, said Maj. Paul Martin of the Durham County's Sheriff's Office.

The men were charged with breaking and/or entering, and conspiracy to commit felony larceny. Three remain at the Durham County jail in lieu of $10,000 bail, while Nelson's bail is $20,000. All the bail amounts were reduced from an initial $300,000.

No charges will be filed against Dellerman because he shot the suspects in self-defense, Martin said.

Law too lenient?

Martin and Dellerman expressed frustration with the possible punishment the suspects now face.

Under the law, first-degree burglary is defined as breaking into an occupied dwelling at night. The Class D felony carries a prison sentence of 38 to 201 months. Second-degree burglary is defined as breaking into an unoccupied building at night. The Class G felony carries a sentence of eight to 38 months in jail.

Breaking and entering, however, is defined as entering a building with intent to commit a felony or larceny. It is a Class H felony and generally brings a sentence of four to 30 months.

"In my opinion, a person's home is a sacred place," Martin said. "In the modern world, you never know when someone is home and someone is not."

Many law enforcement officials think that the punishment for breaking and entering is too lenient, said Jim Woodall, district attorney for Orange and Chatham counties. When someone breaks into an occupied building, day or night, the crime can quickly escalate, he said. Raising the consequences if the building is occupied would help, he said.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby Jr. suggested giving judges more discretion in sentencing when a building is occupied or a suspect has a gun.

Not sleeping well

Dellerman bought his gun during a crime spell in Indianapolis and said it had been years "since I fired the thing."

He thinks he might have been killed if he had not used it two weeks ago. "I probably would not have been here today," he said.

Dellerman poured his Christmas cash and other money into a security system and recently adopted a Rottweiler puppy, Lucy, from the pound, he said.

Still, he doesn't sleep well and won't play his stereo system loud because he is always on alert.

"The innocence is gone in terms of feeling you're safe within your own home," he said. "Even after all these measures, you still have to worry."