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Polk County Homeowner Shoots & Kills Intruder; Investigation Pending

Over Memorial Day weekend, Winter Haven resident William Cornwell, a U.S. Navy veteran and security guard at Winter Haven Hospital, shot and killed 40-year-old Christopher Brian Deese. Polk County Sheriff’s deputies report that Deese broke into Cornwell’s home and challenged him to a fight after a night of heavy drinking.

According to authorities, Deese yelled, “You wanna fight?”, then pulled off his shirt and charged at Cornwell. Cornwell shot Deese once in the chest with a .380 caliber pistol.

The men were strangers and there is apparently no explanation for the fact that Deese began banging on Cornwell’s front door at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, swearing and demanding to be let in. Law enforcement reports that Cornwell’s wife, Traci, was asleep on the couch and woke up her husband, who got his handgun. then yelled through the door, telling Deese to go away.

Cornwell apparently opened the front door and yelled again through the screen door. At that point, Deese opened the screen door and ran into the home. Cornwell accidentally shot one round into the floor and then hit Deese with his second shot.

Deputies said the Cornwells’ 3-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter were sleeping in their beds at the time.

According to the sheriff’s office, Deese had spend the night drinking with friends in Winter Haven. Friends told investigators Deese was “quite intoxicated.”

Before appearing at the Cornwell home, Deese apparently got into a fight at someone else’s house, where had went with a friend. After the fight, the friend dropped Deese off in Cornwell’s neighborhood because Deese said he knew someone there.

A woman who lives next door to the Cornwells called the sheriff’s office when she saw Deese lying on her patio table inside her screened porch. While deputies were on the way, Deese walked over to the Cornwells’ house and began banging on the door.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told the media that Cornwell had a right to shoot Deese. “William Cornwell had every right to protect himself, his wife and his children from this irrational, out-of-control man who broke into their home. The mistake the suspect made by breaking into that home was a fatal one.”

In his press conference, Judd referenced the 2005 Florida Castle Doctrine, which says if a person fears death or great bodily harm to themselves or another, they are allowed to use deadly force while protecting their home or car against someone who has entered illegally.

Deputies are continuing to investigate the shooting. The Polk County State Attorney’s Office will ultimately review the Sheriff’s investigation and decide whether to file charges against Cornwell.

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