Charges will not be filed against a man accused of shooting a co-worker in the forehead at the West End Walmart last summer, Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos announced Wednesday.
In a written statement, Paxinos said the actions of Craig Schmidt, 49, who was accused of shooting 32-year-old Danny Lira during an altercation at Walmart last August, “are supported by Montana law, in both presenting a firearm and in its discharge” and that he was defending himself.
Schmidt was arrested at the scene of the shooting last Aug. 10 and was released from the county jail a short time later while the County Attorney’s Office investigated. He was released under Montana’s then-recently enacted House Bill 228, known as the “castle doctrine” law, which says a person has a natural right to use firearms in self-defense and doesn’t have to call law enforcement before using “justifiable” force.
Schmidt was facing possible charges of assault with a weapon, but the law brought about the need for investigators to gather more information about the incident to determine whether Schmidt believed his life was threatened.
The two men got into an argument about Lira taking an extended break while working on a loading dock at Walmart, Paxinos said, and when Schmidt bumped Lira’s shoulder a short time later, Lira allegedly took it as the beginning of a fight and attacked him.
A witness told investigators that as Schmidt was punched and shoved, he pulled out a pistol and fired. According to Paxinos’ statement, Schmidt said Lira hit him “extremely hard” twice in the head before he fell onto his back on top of a metal rack. He also told them he feared a third blow could cause serious injury or kill him because his head was above the metal surface.
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He then allegedly pulled out the pistol and fired.
“At the point he decided to draw his gun, Mr. Schmidt could retreat no further,” Paxinos wrote. “He was almost on his back with his feet off the ground, and he believed he would be severely beaten.”
A .25-caliber bullet struck Lira in the forehead, but did not penetrate his skull. Lira told a Billings Gazette reporter a short time later that he was defending himself when the fight started, Paxinos’ prosecutorial decision states.
“This case is difficult because of the obvious disparity of force between punches and a firearm,” Paxinos wrote. “But, after careful consideration of the facts, we conclude Mr. Schmidt’s use of force was justified under Montana law.”
He went on to say that the decision was also based on witness accounts of the incident, which pointed toward Lira as the primary aggressor; a medical examination of Schmidt that determined he suffered significant injuries from the punches; and the size disparity between the two men. Lira was described as 5 feet, 10 inches tall and 260 pounds while the documents said Schmidt was 6 feet, 2 inches and 141 pounds.
“We believe that a reasonable jury would weight the same factors we did and also conclude that Mr. Schmidt was justified in using a gun to defend himself,” Paxinos determined