ATLANTA — A man who fatally shot a wandering Alzheimer’s patient in the early morning in north Georgia will not face criminal charges, a local prosecutor said Friday.
Joe Hendrix, 35, fatally shot 72-year-old Ronald Westbrook on Nov. 27. Westbrook had slipped from his home as early as 1 a.m. and wandered in the cold and dark for hours until approaching the home of Hendrix’s fiancee on a rural cul-de-sac, repeatedly knocking on the door and ringing the bell.
Hendrix’s fiancee called 911, while Hendrix grabbed his .40-caliber handgun, went outside and confronted the unknown man in the dark.
Hendrix told police that he could see that man was carrying a cylindrical object, which turned out to be a flashlight. The unknown man ignored shouts to stop and came at Hendrix, he later told police.
Hendrix fired three or four times, hitting Westbrook in the chest.
District Attorney Herbert “Buzz” Franklin said he could press charges only if investigators prove that Hendrix was not acting in self-defense when he pulled the trigger.
“It’s a difficult burden to meet,” Franklin said. “You have to be able to prove what was in their mind at the time of the act. All the circumstances here could lead one to reasonably believe that Mr. Hendrix was acting in self-defense.”
The outcome brought no solace to Westbrook’s family.
“I’m a little upset,” said Deanne Westbrook, the slain man’s widow. “I really wanted to see it go before a grand jury, and then maybe before a jury. But they tell me there’s not enough evidence for that.”
The shooting was preceded by a series of chance events, including one Nov. 19, when Hendrix’s fiancee called 911 just before midnight to report that a man carrying a piece of paper and a flashlight rang her doorbell and wanted to see a person whose name she did not recognize, according to Hendrix’s attorney and police reports obtained by the Associated Press under the state’s open records laws.
About a week later, Westbrook slipped out unnoticed from the home he shared with his wife of 51 years. His widow previously said her husband had become confused about where he lived and struggled to identify those closest to him.
She said she installed alarms on her doors to prevent her husband from wandering, but she didn’t hear them when he left with the couple’s two dogs, possibly around 1 a.m.