James Ott could have shot him, and investigating sheriff’s deputies wondered why he hadn’t.
After all, James had been assaulted in his own home by a stranger. He was bleeding copiously from wounds to the head. He had been carrying a handgun. The man’s death would have meant nothing to the police and perhaps very little to the community. But Ott didn’t kill him when he could have very easily, legally — perhaps even morally — done so, and therein lies the story … or part of it.
At Death’s Door
Ott travels for work a lot, even at 79. He keeps a home office in Ohio when he isn’t needed at the corporate offices near Chicago. He claims he has retired, but that’s with a wink and a nod. After all, what are glasses, a walking cane and hearing aids if one is still needed at a billion-dollar security company? Besides, Jim has warded off cancer more than once. Work gives him a sense of drive and a sense of purpose. He’s not one to dwell on the past, on memories, on a lifetime of service.
On the afternoon of Aug. 15, 2019, Ott was working alone at home. He heard a noise in the kitchen. Not much of a noise — no crashing glass, barking dogs or screaming wife — just a small, indefinable something that seemed out of place. He thought maybe it was his wife Linda.
Jim pushed his chair back from his desk and looked toward the dining room. A man, a very large one at that, stood in the middle of the room holding one of Jim’s heavy walking canes in both hands.
“Who are you?” Ott asked him. “What do you want?”
The man simply replied, “I’m here to kill you, bitch.”
Instantly, the man lunged forward, cracking Ott across the back of the head with the cane. He pinned Ott against the wall, the walking stick at his throat. After a lifetime of service in the public and private security sectors, Ott carries 24/7, but the lunge and pin against the wall happened so fast, so unexpectedly.
The man kept muttering, “I’m going to kill you. I’m going to kill you.”
Jim vs. the Intruder
It would have been reasonable to assume that the man was high on something and had chosen the Ott home more or less at random. But now, almost eye-to-eye with the intruder who was trying desperately to choke him to death, Ott, a former sworn officer, recalls thinking that the rage sprang from some different source. Although the man was much younger and heavier, Ott managed to shove him away, the ideal time for the intruder to give him another crack to the head … but he did not.
Hardly seconds after Ott heard the noise and took the blow to the head, he drew his pistol, a Glock 17, from a retention holster covered by his shirt. He pointed it at the intruder, who stopped instantly and backed away. It was Ott’s first opportunity to defend himself.
Ott managed to shove him away, the ideal time for the intruder to give him another crack to the head … but he did not.
“Go ahead and kill me!” the man shouted. He turned and ran out of the house to his parked car. Ott followed him. Even with his head buzzing with dizziness and pain, he knew enough to get a description and, if possible, a license plate number. After all, his wife was alone in a separate office on the property, and there was no way of knowing what the man would do — or what, exactly, he wanted, or who he was or what had brought him to the residence. He could have come at Ott again, but now, handgun in hand, Ott was prepared.
Outside, the intruder stopped, dropped the cane and backed toward his red Saturn. “Go ahead. Kill me. It doesn’t matter. I’ve got warrants.” For an experienced security executive, it would have been an easy shot, and it was Ott’s second opportunity to shoot. Then, with a show of insouciant bravado, the intruder turned his back on Ott, got into his car and backed out of the driveway and onto the road, where he sped east and away.
Ott holstered his pistol and called 911. In about 20 seconds, his friend, the local chief of police, arrived. Not long afterward, several sheriff’s deputies screeched down the road and into his drive, followed by an ambulance.
Perhaps all is well that ends well. Perhaps. Yet no one understood why Ott did not pull the trigger. After all, the only blood on the scene was Ott’s; the only injury was Ott’s concussion. The police chief was puzzled, and the questioning sheriff’s deputies were dumbfounded.
Ott put his gun aside when the police arrived. Although he was bleeding profusely from the head, he was able to answer their preliminary questions. No, he didn’t know or recognize the intruder. No, he didn’t think he had ever seen him before. Yes, he could describe the car and, generally, his attacker. Mostly, however, the sympathetic cops were puzzled why he did not shoot. After all, armed with a heavy walking stick, the intruder could have beaten Ott to death.
Ott reflected. It was obvious to him why he had made the decision not to shoot. A man of faith, once he realized he would live through the encounter and that the intruder was backing away, there was no reason to shoot.
“As soon as I pulled the gun,” Ott reflected, “he stopped and backed away. Why shoot him?”
The deputies shook their heads wondering how Ott had such great presence of mind. Perhaps they felt he had “gone soft” or was withholding some clue, some vital piece of information. Most people, they imagined, would have pulled the trigger.
“In this situation, you could have shot him in the back and gotten away with it,” one of the responding deputies muttered.
Ott said he would never shoot someone in the back if he could help it, unless doing so would save an innocent person’s life.
So Why Not Shoot the Intruder
The police eventually apprehended the violent intruder in Pennsylvania. His extradition provided a clue to his identity and his reason for the attack on Ott.
A number of months earlier, Ott had contracted a man to do work on his home. Its completion left him and his wife unsatisfied to the point that they sued the contractor and eventually won a reasonable judgment against him. The attacker, it turns out, was related to the contractor.
Ott had been right in assessing that the intruder was not after cash. It was simply a case of old-fashioned rage. It turned out that the intruder’s elderly mother had filed a restraining order against him and that his flight into Pennsylvania may have been intended to “deal with” his spouse.
Ott had been right in assessing that the intruder was not after cash. It was simply a case of old-fashioned rage.
Of course, this incident became even more unusual than ever when, on his flight from the Ott residence, the intruder called 911. He told the dispatcher that during a visit to the Ott home, the old man had pulled a gun on him. His story was ludicrous, and it didn’t take law enforcement long to realize it was a lie.
The intruder had two open warrants for domestic violence. Extradited to Ohio, he was arraigned by a grand jury and charged with aggravated burglary and felonious assault. Recently, the man’s public defender allowed (or encouraged) him to enter a plea — and not exactly, “I did it. I’m sorry. I lost my head. I accept the consequences.” He pleaded “not guilty by reason of insanity,” which is a notoriously difficult plea for courts and juries to evaluate fairly and consistently.
10,000 Guardian Angels Ringside
The after-effects of the attack have been more serious for Ott. He is recovering from the concussion the blow to the head with his heavy cane inflicted, and there are the nine staples required to hold his scalp in place. Still, it could have been worse.
If the attacker had entered the Ott residence with a firearm, chances are Ott would be dead. His wife, hearing the gunshots, would almost certainly have rushed out of her office, and the intruder could have shot her as well.
In this case, a double homicide might have stayed on the books for years before anyone connected the intruder to the killings. Or a murder or two at the Ott’s rural home might have remained unsolved for many years, eventually falling into some cold case file to be forgotten by all but the family who loved them.
James Ott, a man of faith, says he has 10,000 angels looking over him. He and his wife realize that anything might have happened that day. There are more “what ifs” than the couple can count. Nevertheless, these days, Ott says he’s feeling much better, is feeling fine physically and, in fact, does not regret for a moment either having his gun with him or making the decision not to shoot.
Old Hickory’s Trusty Cane
On Jan. 30, 1835, an unemployed painter named Richard Lawrence approached 67-year-old President Andrew Jackson as he exited the U.S. Capitol building while attending the funeral of South Carolina Rep. Warren R. Davis. The crazed painter pulled a derringer pistol from his pocket and fired, but the firearm failed to discharge. Despite being in poor health, Jackson, who survived his fair share of brushes with death during his lifetime, charged the would-be assassin, using his cane to defend himself. Lawrence pulled out a second pistol, but it malfunctioned too. Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett (of Alamo fame) and other bystanders subdued Lawrence while Jackson was rushed by carriage to the White House. Investigators later tested Lawrence’s pistols and found them to be in perfect working order. — Frank Jastrzembski, Associate Editor