Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods
Self-Defense — Or Not?
Bernard Goetz
Bernard Goetz
New Yorker Bernard Goetz, aka the Subway Vigilante, once the victim of a mugging, decided for years afterwards to illegally carry a concealed weapon. Then on December 22, 1984, he was accosted by Barry Allen, Troy Canty, and Darrell Cabey, all 19, and James Ramseur, 18, who demanded five dollars from him. According to the trial documents, Goetz said, "You can all have it!" He then pulled out a handgun and fired five times at the group. The case quickly became a media circus.

All four teens were shot, Cabey, would be paralyzed for life. Goetz ran, but turned himself in nine days later. He was charged with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and several firearms offenses. Before the case was finished, he would also be sued by Canty and Cabey, who had fallen into a coma and suffered irreparable brain damage. At the trial defense witness Peter Smith testified that moments after the shooting he had asked the injured Canty what had happened, and Canty had replied, "We were going to rob him but he shot us first." The statement was later recanted by Canty, so a large part of the case against Goetz focused on whether or not he had shot innocent youth, who were merely panhandling, out of a desire for revenge. Many believed he had no right to stand up against the teens, and should have just given them the money. Others hailed him as a hero. In the end Goetz was acquitted of all charges except illegally carrying a firearm, for which he served 250 days of a one year sentence. The jury in the suit by Cabey awarded the plaintiff $43 million in damages. Goetz filed for bankruptcy. To this day Goetz maintains that acted rightly.
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