Sarah McKinley from Blanchard, Oklahoma, was 18-years-old when her husband passed away from cancer on Christmas Day of 2012, leaving her a widow and a single mother of a three-month-old baby. On New Year’s Eve, Sarah and her son were home alone when two men appeared at the door, one of which was armed with a 12-inch hunting knife. As Sarah stood behind the door, the two men began to break in. As one of the men went door-to-door, Sarah grabbed as 12-gauge shotgun and a pistol and called 911.
She said: “I’ve got two guns in my hand. Is it okay to shoot him if he comes in this door? I’m here by myself with my infant baby, can I please get a dispatcher out here immediately?” The 911 operator replied: “Well, you have to do whatever you can to protect yourself. I can’t tell you that you can do that, but you do what you have to do to protect your baby.”
The 911 operator would later say that it was evident that Sarah was terrified. She was whispering down the phone so that the intruder did not know that she had placed a call to 911. She asked Sarah: “Do you have an alarm on your car that you can set off with your remote control that might scare him?” However, Sarah didn’t. All she had was her gun.1
Sarah had managed to barricade the front door with a couch but suddenly, one of the men kicked in the door and rushed towards Sarah with the knife. Sarah immediately shot him with the 12-gauge shotgun, killing him almost immediately. She would later say: “I wouldn’t have done it, but it was my son. It’s not an easy decision to make, but it was either going to be him or my son. And it wasn’t going to be my son. There’s nothing more dangerous than a woman with a child.”
The intruder was identified as Justin Martin and his accomplice was identified as Dustin Stewart, who had fled from the scene following the shooting but later turned himself in. Sarah had recognised Justin; just the week beforehand, on the day of Sarah’s husband’s funeral, Justin had stopped by at Sarah’s home and claimed that he was a neighbour who just wanted to say hello. Sarah did not let him into her home and briefly spoke to him through the door.
Following the shooting, the district attorney said that Sarah had acted in self-defence and she would not be facing charges. “You’re allowed to shoot an unauthorized person that is in your home. The law provides you the remedy, and sanctions the use of deadly force,” said Det. Dan Huff. Dustin, on the other hand, was ordered to appear in court to face charges of first-degree felony murder. Under Oklahoma’s felony murder law, prosecutors were permitted to seek a murder conviction if an accomplice dies during the commission of another felony crime.
Just the following day, Dustin was released on bond. Following his release, CBS reported that Sarah was “ready, waiting and watching” in case Dustin decided to make a re-appearance at her home.2 Thankfully for both Sarah and Dustin, he decided not to return.
Ironically, when Justin was remembered by his friends and family, their portrayal of the man was a stark difference to what the Sarah had experienced. His uncle, Rod Martin, said: “We don’t have many details about how and why this happened, but we do know that much of the speculation and rumors are not consistent with the Justin his many friends, family and community knew him to be.” According to his obituary, his young life was marked by his love and dedication to animals. One friend said: “He was a super nice guy and very hard worker.” However, according to the arrest affidavit, he died clutching a knife and according to the 911 operator, she heard the anger and violence down the other end of the phone line.3
Dustin would later tell investigators that he and Justin had ingested prescription medication earlier on in the day and Justin believed that there may have been painkillers in Sarah’s home because her husband had recently died of cancer.
In May, Dustin was ordered to stand trial for first-degree murder. He initially pleaded not-guilty but the following year, he pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit burglary and was handed a ten-year suspended sentence. He had been originally charged with first-degree murder but the charge was reduced as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.4
On that fateful afternoon, two intruders probably looked at young Sarah McKinley as though she were an easy target. However, the outcome of this case shows that they were very evidently mistaken.
- Alva Review-Courier, 4 January, 2012 – “Okla. Woman Shoots, Kills intruder”
- News & Politics Examiner, 6 January, 2012 – “Armed and Ready if Revisited After Suspect’s Release”
- The Oklahoman, 7 January, 2012 – “Killed Intruder Remembered as Nice Guy”
- The Oklahoman, 5 August, 2014 – “Man Pleads no Contest in Case of Blanchard Home Invasion Death”