Frantic minutes preceded intruder's shooting in Prince George's

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 3, 2010; B01

Adrenaline coursing through his body, Benjamin Jackson dropped to his knees and clasped his hands behind his head, forced to watch -- helplessly -- as the masked, armed intruder rummaged through his home.

This, apparently, was Jackson's reward for trying to help his neighbor. Just minutes earlier, the 29-year-old maintenance man had spotted what looked like two men forcing a screaming woman into an apartment across the hall from his. Uncertain of what he had just seen, he knocked on the door. A man with a gun answered and forced him to walk backward into his own residence.

"Is the young lady next door okay?" Jackson thought as he knelt on his own floor. "What is he attempting to do? Is he going to kill me?"

Then Jackson grabbed his own gun.

"I just couldn't allow it to go down the way it was trying to go down," Jackson said in an interview on Thursday, his first public statements since Monday's fatal shooting, which Prince George's County police say seems to be a case of self-defense. "I know pretty much he was capable of doing what he had to do. First chance, I had to go for it."

Jackson shot and killed Keith L. Fletcher, 20, a father of two young boys who lived in Southeast Washington and in Oxon Hill with his mother. Law enforcement sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity because police are still looking for other suspects, said he was shot multiple times in the upper body -- but only after he squeezed off a shot at Jackson.

"It became a matter of life or death at that moment," Jackson said.

Officially, police will not say much about the case. They have not released even basic details, such as Fletcher's name and what happened inside Jackson's apartment. Jackson's account, however, was corroborated by several law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation. Family members confirmed Fletcher's name.

Shootings that are both fatal and justifiable are a rarity nationwide, which makes Jackson's case all the more astonishing. In 2008, FBI statistics show, there were 204 justifiable homicides by civilians using firearms. That compares with 9,484 criminal homicides involving firearms.

Fletcher's relatives questioned the preliminary ruling that the shooting was justified. Fletcher mentored youths and enjoyed sports -- and was not someone who was likely to participate in an armed robbery, they said.

They also questioned how Jackson was able to retrieve his gun so quickly, if he truly was being held at gunpoint by Fletcher. They said Fletcher was somehow set up by Jackson or others in the apartment building in Forestville.

"He not even that type of person," said Christina Anderson, 21, the mother of one of Fletcher's sons. "He's smart. He liked to work. He liked going out. He [was], like, all about his family. He's not no bad person."

Jackson would not say how he retrieved his gun so quickly. The law enforcement sources said that he was made to kneel next to the shelf it was on and that he had time while the intruder looked around his place.

Jackson said the incident started when he and a co-worker were walking toward his apartment in the 4400 block of Rena Road just before 9 a.m. He said he heard a woman scream and saw her being forced into the apartment across the hall from his. When he went up to the woman's door, he saw some belongings scattered on the floor.

Jackson knocked on the door, and a man with a gun opened it. The man ordered Jackson and his co-worker back into Jackson's apartment, then began searching the place. Then a shootout followed. Neither Jackson nor his co-worker was hit by the gunfire.

"I guess once he seen that I was armed, he just kind of shot," Jackson said.

Law enforcement sources said the shots prompted the other suspect, who was still across the hall, to run. Police are still searching for that man and another man who left the scene in a red, two-door Honda. They said they do not think that Jackson knew any of the people involved, including Fletcher.

Investigators say Fletcher and the others may have been involved in another robbery in the area hours earlier, sources said. He also was facing an active arrest warrant related to a March incident in which he was accused of carjacking and robbing a man he had arranged to buy shoes from.

Fletcher had been arrested three times in 2008, twice on drug-related charges and once for robbery and assault. One of the drug cases was dropped for lack of evidence, the other because officers did not show in court to testify against him, said a spokesman for the Prince George's County state's attorney's office. The robbery and assault case was dropped when the victim could not identify Fletcher as his attacker, the spokesman said.

Jackson was convicted of misdemeanor charges for carrying a concealed gun in North Carolina in 1998 and 2001, court records show. He faced minor fines and was ordered to pay court costs in each case.

Jackson said he is feeling all right after the shooting, although he pondered the worst-case scenario.

"Amazingly," he said, "this came out to survival."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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