A 30-year-old security guard will face a charge of second-degree murder for shooting and killing a participant in a “Patriot Rally” in downtown Denver over the weekend, prosecutors announced Thursday.
If convicted, Matthew Robert Dolloff could face up to 48 years in prison in connection with Saturday’s shooting, which his family’s attorney has said was an act of self-defense.
Dolloff was working as an unlicensed security guard for journalists at Denver television station 9News when he opened fire.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann announced she’ll file the charges against Dolloff on Monday. Police had arrested Dolloff on suspicion of first-degree murder, a more serious charge that would have carried a mandatory life sentence if convicted.
The arrest affidavit for Dolloff released Tuesday states that Lee Keltner, the 49-year-old demonstrator who was killed, became involved in a dispute with Dolloff and a 9News producer, whom Dolloff was guarding. Keltner, who was holding a can of pepper spray, slapped Dolloff in the side of the head, according to the affidavit, and Dolloff then drew a gun from his waistband.
Dolloff fired the gun as Keltner discharged the pepper spray, according to the affidavit.
In Colorado, someone can be charged with second-degree murder “if the person knowingly causes the death of a person.” First-degree murder charges often require evidence that show the suspect planned and intended to kill the victim.
The key difference between first- and second-degree murder is that element of premeditation, said Ken Eichner, a defense attorney and former prosecutor not involved with this case. Second-degree murder is the killing of another person intentionally, but without premeditation, he said.
“In simple terms, you can intentionally kill another person with no pre-planning, or without taking an opportunity to put thought into it,” he said, adding that Dolloff now has the possibility of bonding out of jail.
Premeditation is essentially the act of planning or plotting, and it can be done very quickly, Eichner said.
“I don’t think you can premeditate in a split second, but it doesn’t take long,” he said. “The amount of time it takes to premeditate is the debate in most homicide and attempted homicide trials… that is the key issue.”
He added that he’s not surprised to see a second-degree murder charge in the Dolloff case, and would also not be surprised to see prosecutors add a voluntary manslaughter charge at some point in the future.
“I never thought it would be charged as first-degree murder,” he said. “Because I didn’t perceive the premeditation.”
Beyond criminal charges in the shooting, Denver officials say Dolloff could face additional criminal or civil action for working in Denver without the city’s required municipal security guard license.
Dolloff was working as a contractor for Pinkerton, which 9News had contracted with for security. Management at the television station said Tuesday that they requested an unarmed guard and did not know Dolloff had a gun on Saturday until he opened fire.
Pinkerton said in a statement Monday that Dolloff was not an employee, but “a contractor agent from a long standing industry vendor” that the company would not name.
Dolloff worked as a security contractor for more than a year, his family attorney said, including at a Oct. 9 debate between senatorial candidates John Hickenlooper and Cory Gardner.
Under Colorado law, a person can use deadly force in self-defense only if that person reasonably believes using other, lesser force won’t be sufficient to stop an immediate threat against themselves or others.
The Denver District Attorney’s Office has handled several high-profile homicide cases in recent years where suspects have claimed self defense.
Prosecutors in June declined to file charges against an off-duty Colorado Department of Corrections investigator who shot and killed a 16-year-old who ran through his backyard after allegedly burglarizing a nearby home.
The district attorney’s office in 2018 charged an Uber driver with first-degree murder for fatally shooting his passenger, whom the driver said was attacking him. A jury in 2019 acquitted the driver after trial.
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