It was New Year’s Eve in Blanchard, Oklahoma, and 18-year-old Sarah Dawn McKinley was facing a terror that is the stuff of nightmares. Two men were trying to break into her home as she sat with her baby. This was when McKinley called 911 to ask a life-or-death question.
McKinley was no stranger to trauma. Her 50-something husband had died not two weeks previously after succumbing to lung cancer. Furthermore, her dogs had been discovered dead in the recent past, too. But McKinley’s situation was about to become even worse.
Left to care for her three-month-old baby by herself, McKinley had been perturbed by a visit that had taken place not long after her husband’s funeral. A man introducing himself as Justin Martin had come by her house. Strangely, though, his visit had taken place at night, while it was very dark outside.
As it turned out, McKinley was right to be suspicious about Martin. When New Year’s Eve rolled around, he returned with an accomplice and a large knife. And he was determined to break into McKinley’s home.
Martin began knocking heavily on the front door, while his accomplice Dustin Stewart did the same at the rear door. As a result, McKinley had no escape route available to her. So she pushed the sofa in front of the door to block Martin’s entry and then made the fateful call 911 call.
Speaking to KOCO News, McKinley said that she made sure to do one thing before picking up the phone. She went and got her 12-gauge shotgun, as well as a pistol. And in light of the stressful situation, she also put a bottle in her baby’s mouth to keep him calm.
She told the dispatcher about the men trying to break in and explained that she was armed and prepared to defend herself. “I’ve got two guns in my hand. Is it OK to shoot him if he comes in this door?” she asked the dispatcher. “I’m in here by myself with my infant baby. Can I please get a dispatcher out here immediately?”
Before answering McKinley’s question, the dispatcher told her to make sure that the doors were locked tight. Then she explained that she couldn’t encourage McKinley to shoot the intruders. However, she did add a caveat to her advice.
“Well, you have to do whatever you can do to protect yourself,” the dispatcher explained. “I can’t tell you that you can do that, but you do what you have to do to protect your baby.” As a matter of fact, dispatchers cannot advise people to shoot a person, regardless of the law in that state.
The time for advice was soon over, however, as Martin finally broke down the front door. McKinley could see that he had a weapon of some kind, although she didn’t know it was a knife until later. She subsequently pulled the trigger, shooting and killing the intruder.
“When he busted in the door, I saw something shimmering in his hand,” McKinley later told HLN. “I thought it was a pistol at first, but it was a 12-inch hunting knife. I didn’t know [that] until after I shot and killed him.” When police officers arrived at the scene, the 24-year-old’s body was discovered with the knife still in his hand.
The sound of the shot going off was enough to scare the other would-be intruder, Stewart. He ran away, only for his parents to later turn him in to the police. McKinley was left caring for her baby and waiting for the police to arrive.
Although McKinley did kill Martin, the First Assistant District Attorney subsequently stated that she would not be charged with murder. Since McKinley acted in self-defense, her actions were justified because Oklahoma law follows the Castle Doctrine.
Also known as the Make My Day Law, the Castle Doctrine allows homeowners to defend their properties from intruders with lethal force. In fact, Oklahoma has gone one step further, dictating that the law also covers protection of businesses. However, McKinley’s associate Stewart was charged with murder.
Although it was McKinley who fired the gun, Stewart was treated as an accomplice to the attempted break-in. This is because if a death occurs during certain kinds of crime, other people involved can be charged with causing it. Stewart was subsequently released on a $50,000 bond.
Although the evidence suggested that Martin and Stewart might have been after painkillers, their precise motives have been hard to determine. The two men had ingested hydrocodone prior to the break-in attempt, and McKinley felt that they’d been there for her, not her dead husband’s leftover pills.
As a matter of fact, Martin had been accused by McKinley’s mother of stalking her daughter two years previously. In addition, there had been a later encounter between Martin and McKinley at a local grocery store. Whether or not he had other intentions besides stealing pills, there was certainly a suggestion that the crime was premeditated.
McKinley stated that it was for this reason that she did not feel any regret over killing Martin. “We could have been in a whole different situation if I hadn’t done it,” she said. “You have to make a choice: you or him. I chose my son over him.”
Following the shooting, there was an outpouring of support for McKinley. “You don’t realize how many good people there are until tragedy happens and they step forward. [You] kinda lose faith in the human race, but when people help, it puts that back in,” she said to KFOR-TV.
Ultimately, McKinley was very grateful to the dispatchers whom she’d spoken with during the ordeal. It was the fact that the dispatcher on the other end of the line had remained so calm, she explained, that helped her through. It had given her support in the most trying of circumstances.