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Homeowner Charged with Attempted Murder in New Orleans After Shooting Teen He Suspected of Burglary -- and Media Already Comparing to Trayvon Martin

"The case holds an uncanny similarity to last month's sensational George Zimmerman murder trial..."

The Yard of Merritt Landry showing the gate that Marshall Coulter was apparently behind when he was shot. (Source: WWL-TV)

A picture of Merritt Landry, who has been charged with attempted murder for shooting a teen he says he thought was trying to break into his home. (Source: New Orleans Times-Picayune)

In a story some are already saying bears resemblance to the Trayvon Martin case, a homeowner in New Orleans has been arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder after he shot an unarmed teen after he says he thought the boy was trying to break into his home.

14-year-old Marshall Coulter is in critical condition after being shot in the head by 33-year-old Merritt Landry at around 2 am Friday morning.

Police, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports, said that the teen was shot near Landry's car. Friends told the outlet that Landry's car was behind a gate.

According to the arrest warrant, viewed by the Times-Picayune, Landry said he approached Coulter from his front yard, near his car. But as he drew closer, he said the boy made a "thwarted move, as if to reach for something." Fearing it was a weapon, Landry shot him once from about 30 ft away.

The report also says that New Orleans Police Department Detective Nicholas Williams interviewed a witness who offered a differing account, but it's not clear what that account was. Still, Williams determined that Coulter posed no "imminent threat" and was not trying to enter the house. The Advocat has a longer quote from the report: “victim was not armed, was not attempting to enter the residence, was not posing an imminent threat to Merritt Landry.”

"This incident is terrible, and Mr. Landry feels terrible about how things have occurred," Landry's lawyers, Michael Kennedy and Miles Swanson, said in a statement. "Nevertheless, we remain convinced our client has done nothing wrong, and we are sure -- as facts come to light -- it'll become clear that Mr. Landry will be fully exonerated of any wrongdoing."

Landry posted a $100,000 bond late Friday and is out of jail. He works for the city as a building inspector for the Historic District Landmarks Commission but has been placed on suspension without pay.

The Yard of Merritt Landry showing the gate that Marshall Coulter was apparently behind when he was shot. (Source: WWL-TV)

As for Coulter, his brother admitted he does have a history of theft.

"He would steal -- he was a professional thief, sure," David Coulter told the Times-Picayune. "But he would never pick up a gun, not in a million years. He was too scared to aim a gun at the grass, let alone aim it at a person. No way. Before he'll ever pick up a gun, he'll be your friend first.

"He's still a little boy," he added. "Who pulls a trigger on a 14-year-old? What if it was your little brother or your sister? How would you feel?"

“I love Marshall,” Clarissa Keller, a friend of Coulter's other brother Brandon, told The Advocate. “I really just see him being with the wrong crowd, trying to fit in with the wrong people. He’s not crazy, he’s not stupid — he’s just a follower. Now he’s got a big hole in his head.”

But adding to the complication is the existence of surveillance video from a neighbor and friend of Landry's, Charles Hazouri, that may show Coulter and another boy around 1:44 am in front of Landry's yard casing it out [emphasis added:

Hazouri, who owns property near Landry's house, said his surveillance cameras captured two juveniles riding BMX bikes up and down Mandeville and Dauphine streets around 1:44 a.m. One of the teens was wearing a blue tank top with white stripes; the other was wearing a light-colored T-shirt, Hazouri said.

Earlier in the evening, a different neighbor said the teen in the blue tank top had been biking around the area around 8 p.m. and the neighbor believed he was looking at different houses.

"I thought about calling the cops, but the last thing I want to do is racially profile a little kid who's just biking," said the neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The neighbor and Landry are white; the two teens are black.

Hazouri said his video, which he gave to NOPD detectives, shows the two teens talking in the middle of Mandeville Street outside of Landry's house. The video then shows the teen in the light-colored T-shirt walk his bike across Mandeville toward Landry's house. Then, the teen walks back out to the middle of the road before climbing over Landry's fence, Hazouri said. The other teen in the tank top stayed on the other side of Mandeville Street, Hazouri said.

Landry's large dog started barking, which alerted Landry to the teen being inside his yard, according to Landry's friends.

Quickly, some have seized on the case as bearing close resemblance to the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida -- a case where the shooter, George Zimmerman, was recently exonerated. The New York Daily News, for example, says Landry has been charged "despite citing the state's Castle statutes, which are similar to Florida's Stand Your Ground laws and were used as defense by George Zimmerman in his trial for the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin."

The New York Daily News has already drawn the comparison to the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case, even incorrectly saying Zimmerman's defense cited Florida's "stand your ground" laws. (Source: New York Daily News)

However, Florida's "stand your ground" laws were never cited by Zimmerman's defense.

"The case holds an uncanny similarity to last month's sensational George Zimmerman murder trial, where the former Sanford, Fla. neighborhood watch captain was acquitted of murdering unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin," the Daily News writes.

Marshall, one of eight children, is still in critical condition but is making progress. Family told the Times-Picayune that he could move the right side of his body but not the left.
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