No charges for man who shot Thiemann | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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No charges for man who shot Thiemann

Jenifer Ragland

The El Dorado County district attorney’s office Wednesday determined Vernon Vernaza acted in self defense when he shot and killed Tahoe Queen owner Joe Thiemann.

Assistant District Attorney Sean O’Brien said under California law, a homicide that is justified is not considered a criminal act, therefore no criminal charges will be filed against the 18 year old.

Thiemann was killed Feb. 26 during an armed assault on Mike Phillips – Thiemann’s former business landlord at Ski Run Marina – inside Phillips’ home. According to police, Vernaza, a close friend of Phillips, shot Thiemann after Thiemann misfired his gun while it was pointed at Phillips and then pistol whipped Phillips several times in the head.

O’Brien said after considering all of the reports provided by the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, he found Vernaza to be protected under Section 198.5 of the Penal Code.

“The actions taken by Mr. Thiemann inside the residence suggest that, but for the actions of Mr. Vernaza, Mr. Phillips would probably have been killed,” O’Brien said in a written statement. “In my opinion, Mr. Vernaza acted reasonably in defense of himself and Mr. Phillips.”

The law applies to situations where a person unlawfully and forcibly enters a residence with an intent to cause death or great bodily harm, and the potential victim is presumed to have held reasonable fear.

“Joe came in uninvited and pointed a gun – that is what I would consider to be forcible,” O’Brien said. “He didn’t break the door down, but he did come uninvited.”

Adding to the evidence supporting Vernaza’s actions was the fact that the clip in Thiemann’s .45-caliber gun was fully loaded and that he allegedly tried to fire it more than once.

“While it is not clear why the gun did not fire, it certainly could have,” O’Brien said. “But by the grace of God it didn’t go off.”

After Thiemann’s death, police discovered two fully loaded assault rifles and a loaded shotgun inside a truck Thiemann left running near Phillips’ house.

“That this situation was a tragedy for all concerned goes without question,” O’Brien said. “However, it appears to have been a situation where Mr. Vernaza acted in the only way he could to prevent further tragedy.”

Phillips said on Wednesday that the decision came as no surprise to himself nor the friend who saved his life.

“We were never worried, we knew from day one that the police knew what happened,” Phillips said. “It’s nice to make it public, but we knew all along.”

He said Vernaza is now living in San Luis Obispo, Calif., undergoing counseling, and trying to put the unfortunate events behind him.


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