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Originally published April 15, 2011 at 6:29 AM | Page modified April 16, 2011 at 3:57 PM

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The Blotter

Store employee shoots, kills suspected burglar in Seattle

An employee of an outdoor power equipment business in the Georgetown neighborhood shot and killed a suspected burglar Thursday night during a break-in, according to Seattle police.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A paper sign that simply read "Closed today" fluttered in the shattered doorway of Sharp's Outdoor Power Equipment in Georgetown on Friday, where an employee fatally shot a suspected burglar in the head and held a second man at gunpoint during a break-in Thursday night.

The King County Medical Examiner's Office identified James Philip Stapleton as the 46-year-old man who was shot and died near the front of the business at 5931 Fourth Ave. S.

Stapleton was carrying a chain saw when he was confronted by the store employee and shot about 11:20 p.m. Thursday, said Seattle police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.

The 59-year-old store employee detained the second suspected intruder, a 49-year-old man, until police arrived.

Seattle Fire Department medics treated Stapleton, but he died at the scene.

The second man was booked into the King County Jail just after 7 a.m. Friday on investigation of burglary, jail records show. He is expected to be in court for a bail hearing Saturday afternoon.

A man who came to the store's door Friday declined to be interviewed. The owner of the business also could not be reached Friday.

The employee who shot Stapleton was interviewed and released by police, Whitcomb said. Whitcomb declined to say why the employee was at the store so late, but said it was not uncommon.

Police declined to say whether either of the intruders was armed with a handgun.

The chain saw carried by Stapleton was presumably from the store, but Whitcomb said that was being investigated.

Asked if the employee's gun was legal, Whitcomb said if there had been any issue with the firearm, detectives would have taken "corrective action."

"All that stuff is being looked at very carefully," he said. Once detectives conclude their investigation, it "will be up to the Prosecutor's Office to determine if [the fatal shooting] will fall under self-defense, or justifiable homicide," Whitcomb said.

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Under state law, a person can use reasonable force to prevent or attempt to prevent injury or "malicious interference" with property in the person's possession. Force can be used to detain someone who unlawfully enters a building.

Homicide is considered justifiable if the person using deadly force is lawfully defending himself or another person from someone who is committing a felony, or someone who presents an imminent danger, according to state law.

According to court records, Stapleton was arrested five times in the past year, mostly for crimes such as petty theft and marijuana possession. He had a history of domestic violence and traffic violations, court records show.

The second suspect has a history of traffic violations, according to court records. He was charged in November for investigation of second-degree assault and malicious mischief, but those charges were later dismissed.

There have been several break-ins in the area, said Mark Reynolds, vice president of nearby Pacific Lamp & Supply. The business, which deals in specialty light bulbs, fixtures and ballasts, has been hit three times in the past 15 months, he said.

In the most recent break-in, intruders broke a window and went through all the desks in the office, taking $9 in change, Reynolds said.

"Quite frankly, I'm hoping maybe [the shooting] will put an end to it."

Employees at Cleanscapes, about a half-block away, said someone forced open the gate on their yard a few months ago. But the only things stored there were recycling bins.

Seattle Times staff reporter Sandi Doughton and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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