The Melinda Herman Case
Part 3: Six Shots to Save Your Life
Donnie Herman owned two guns for home defense. One was a .38 revolver, and Donnie took his wife Melinda to the range to learn how to fire it in case she’d ever have to use it to protect herself or her 9-year-old twins. That circumstance arose just two weeks later when, home alone with her children, Melinda was confronted by an intruder.
The episode began when Paul Slater came to Herman’s front door and rang the bell twice. Getting no response, he rang it over and over again, presumably to ensure that there was no one home. Then he went to his SUV, retrieved a crowbar, and marched back towards the door. Melinda gathered her children, retrieved the six-shot revolver, and hid in an attic crawlspace with her children.
She dialed Donnie at work. In turn, he called 911, simultaneously giving his wife instructions on how to deal with the intruder while reporting on the situation to the operator. Melinda told Donnie the intruder was nearby. Only the tiny door to the crawlspace separated Donnie’s terrified family and Slater.
“Melinda,” Donnie said, “if he opens the door, you shoot him! You understand?”
Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman told reporters what happened next. “The perpetrator opens that door, and of course at that time he’s staring at her, her two children, and a .38 revolver.”
Melinda opened fire. She later told investigators that Slater started pleading with her to stop shooting, but she fired all six rounds in the revolver. Five of the six rounds struck the intruder in the face and torso. “Shoot ‘em again! Shoot ‘em!” Donnie yelled. He later told the 911 dispatcher. “She shot him -- a lot.”
Even though she was out of bullets, Melinda told Slater that she’d keep shooting if he didn’t leave. The intruder decided to flee. Ultimately, none of the shots proved fatal, but as Slater tried to race off in his SUV, he passed out and ran into a tree in a neighboring subdivision. First responders rushed him to the hospital and treated him for wounds to his lungs, liver, stomach, and face. He’s currently serving a prison sentence related to the burglary attempt at Herman’s home.
While Melinda and her children escaped physical harm, it was certainly a close call. If Slater had the ability to escape in his SUV, he certainly had the ability to attack the mother and her children once she had exhausted the ammunition in her firearm. Gun rights groups used the Herman case to argue against placing legal limits on magazine capacity. “It’s a good thing she wasn’t facing more attackers,” said Erich Pratt, director of communications for the Gun Owners of America. “Otherwise she would have been in trouble and she would have run out of ammunition.”
Considering Melinda Herman’s close call, I recently asked firearms instructors Steve Moses and Tatiana Whitlock whether a revolver is a good choice for home defense.
Steve Moses says, “If you’ve got a good, mid-size, K-frame Smith & Wesson or Ruger-type revolver you’ve been relying on, and you know how to shoot it, you can shoot it well, you understand the laws on self-defense, and you’ve got an understanding of basic tactics, then you’re not ill-prepared.” That said, Steve believes, for most armed defenders, a semi-automatic pistol is a better way to go.
Tatiana agrees. “I personally prefer to put people into semi-automatics -- and not necessarily sub-compact semi-automatics, but into a full-size semi-automatic, and that’s largely, especially for home defense, because the ammo capacity becomes a real bonus.”
“How many life-saving opportunities do you want?” Tatiana says. “If I told Melinda Herman, ‘I could give you 16 chances to save your children, or I could give you six chances to save your children; which would you prefer?” Chances are, if Melinda could have shot Slater more times, she would have.
Don West, criminal defense attorney and National Trial Counsel for CCW Safe, says Melinda would have been justified had she been able to continue firing at the intruder. “It didn’t matter whether he was shot one time or fifty times, as long as he still presented that threat. She only had six, and she shot six, and it still didn’t completely deter him. It didn’t stop the threat until he basically chose to leave.”
We warned armed defenders in the past that “every shot counts,” in a self-defense shooting. It means that every bullet fired must be in response to an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm. Once the threat is neutralized, the shooter must stop shooting. Conversely, Tatiana says, “One of the strongest self-defense realities we try to impart to women is: You fight until you win. You fight until it’s over.”
Law enforcement officer and firearms trainer Chuck Haggard recently told us that the goal of self-defense is to “break contact” with an attacker. That’s how an armed defender knows they’ve won the fight. That’s how they know it’s over; the attacker breaks contact. Chuck also reminded us that “even a bullet is not a ‘magic bullet’” -- that gunshot wounds are frequently non-fatal. In response to Slater surviving five point-blank rounds to the head and torso, Steve Moses says, “absent one of those rounds striking the central nervous system or an artery, there’s a good chance that’s all survivable.”
It’s a good argument for choosing a firearm with a higher-capacity magazine for home defense. Tatiana says she sees a lot of women get paired with a revolver because there is a perception it is easier. “The reality is, she drives a big car around all day. That car is bigger, with more bells and whistles, and more complex levers and buttons -- it is far more complex than that semi-automatic will ever be. Please do not underestimate her capacity to run a machine.”
The lesson for armed defenders is that the goal of self-defense is to force an attacker to “break contact,” and sometimes it takes more than one shot to accomplish. Which tool you choose to accomplish that goal represents a very personal choice, and as Steve pointed out, many people who are properly trained are well-served with a revolver. However, as Tatiana notes, each bullet represents a chance to save your life, or your children’s lives, and having more chances presents a great advantage -- as long as you know to stop shooting once you’ve eliminated the immediate threat.
SHAWN VINCENT- LITIGATION CONSULTANT
Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters. If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know belo