Shooting of 14-year-old in New Orleans ignites passionate debate

Shooting of 14-year-old in New Orleans ignites passionate debate
Photos provided by the victim's mother and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office.
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POSTED: Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 6:30pm

UPDATED: Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 6:29pm

A critically wounded 14-year-old, shot by a homeowner in an early morning encounter, now lies in the middle of a passionate debate between two vocal groups -- one calling for a stop to violence and one defending the right of self-defense.

The shooting, happened just before 2 a.m. July 26 in a gentrified neighborhood in New Orleans. It came less than two weeks after George Zimmerman's acquittal in a similar case in Florida.

Police say Marshall Coulter, who was unarmed, hopped a 6-foot fence surrounding the driveway and courtyard area of the home of Merritt Landry, who is now charged with attempted second-degree murder.

Landry, a city building inspector who has since been put on leave, was home with a pregnant wife and toddler. He shot once at Coulter, hitting him in the head, police said.

Family friends of the teen say he's been in critical condition and hasn't awakened for over a month, and doctors think he may be paralyzed on one side.

Landry, 33, was arrested after police said his explanation of what happened that night conflicted with a witness's statement, and evidence at the scene -- namely, the casing from the bullet of his gun, found about 30 feet from Coulter's body.

Landry had told police he and the teen were both near his car when Coulter made a sudden movement, prompting Landry to shoot, a police report states.

The case is making its way through the initial stages of the criminal court system in Orleans Parish, and the district attorney still has to decide whether to prosecute the case as police have charged it. The next hearing is set for September 20. Landry, through his attorney, declined CNN's request for comment.

Meanwhile, Coulter is fighting for his life in a hospital bed. His family of eight is on a rotation to make sure he's never alone.

But Landry is fighting for his life, too, friends say.

"I could see that happening to myself very easily," said Ron Evans, a family friend who has known Landry since he was a toddler. "Who knows what reaction you take if you walk out to inspect a noise in your house and someone jumps at you."

With emotions from Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin still raw, tensions in the neighborhood have spilled out onto the streets.

Several dueling protests have taken place outside Landry's home. One of them morphed into a shouting match between two groups, arguing over whether race played a role in what happened here.

As the crow flies, Coulter and Landry live less than a mile from each other. But the neighborhoods are worlds apart.

Landry's home is a few feet from coffee shops and local businesses. People sit outside and ride bikes. But there are many of gates and security systems are plentiful.

Coulter lives about a 10-minute walk away, on a street where local church ministers say drugs are prevalent and crime is high.

At a church just feet from Coulter's home, the Rev. Christiana Ford says she spends her weekends trying to get teens to come to services.

She said Coulter had some behavioral problems, but she believes he didn't deserve to be shot.

"He didn't have no weapon, he wasn't face to face to the man. He was about 30 feet away. It was just wrong," Ford said. "... Every life's invaluable, you know, even though he had a problem."

No one disputes Coulter was inside Landry's fence and on his property in the middle of the night.

What's disputed is more philosophical.

"Well, first of all, if he is 30 feet away, not up on my door, I would have dialed 911 and prepared for the worst and hoped for the better," said the Rev. Raymond Brown, a civil rights activist, when asked the question many of Landry's supporters are asking -- What would you do?

Landry's friends say he was scared and felt he had no choice.

"You cannot forget, it is 2 a.m. and a shady figure jumps at you," Evans said.

Shortly after the shooting, Brown held a press conference near Landry's home, calling the shooting racially motivated.

"Young black men die every day. If he were white it would be a different situation," he later told CNN.

His opinion ignited anger in some who Brown said verbally attacked him in the street that day. Police were called to break it up.

One of Landry's supporters, Nadra Enzi, argues this has nothing to do with race, and that Brown is trying to take advantage of the passionate pleas that came out of the Zimmerman trial.

Enzi says he's been an anti-crime activist in the city for 20 years and himself was once a victim of an attempted home invasion. He's now a member of the Home Defense Foundation of New Orleans. He's also black. In fact, his community activism nickname is "Captain Black."

"I just want all the facts to be weighed and to consider that here is a man that is a responsible member of the community," he said. "He did not invite this encounter and I think that needs to be paramount."

-- CNN's Devon Sayers contributed to this report.

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