Dispute over Facebook photo focus of Dakota County homicide
ST. PAUL James Edward Koenig posed shirtless Sunday while a 13-year-old boy snapped photos of him for Facebook. The teen's father found the pictures, leading to the confrontation in which Koenig was killed, prosecutors say. Robert Michael Thomas,...
James Edward Koenig posed shirtless Sunday while a 13-year-old boy snapped photos of him for Facebook. The teen's father found the pictures, leading to the confrontation in which Koenig was killed, prosecutors say.
Robert Michael Thomas, 46, who is disabled and walks with a cane, acted in self-defense when he fired the fatal shot, his friends and family say. Koenig, 38, refused to leave his house, they said Tuesday after Thomas appeared on a charge of felony second-degree murder in Dakota County District Court in Hastings.
"If that's not self-defense, what would be called appropriate self-defense?" asked Brian Curtis, a friend who witnessed the shooting Sunday at Thomas' home in the 14000 block of Plymouth Avenue in Burnsville.
If convicted, Thomas, who appeared in court in a wheelchair, could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison. A continued first-appearance hearing is scheduled for Feb. 8.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said prosecutors will request a grand jury to convene to decide what criminal charges, if any, Thomas should face in an indictment.
"We reviewed the reports as quickly as we could; we don't have all the information," Backstrom said. "These cases are complicated. They take some time to gather the information."
The shooting happened about 5:30 p.m. Sunday during a gathering at Thomas' house for the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears football game, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
When police arrived, Curtis
said he directed officers to the residence where Thomas, the son, Koenig and Koenig's girlfriend were still inside. Police found Thomas in the garage.
"I shot him," he told officers, the complaint said. He said he used a shotgun to do it.
Police arrested Thomas. Inside the house, officers found what appeared to be a single-shot from a shotgun on a sofa chair, according to the charge. Koenig was lying on his back. Koenig's girlfriend was kneeling by him, administering medical treatment.
Paramedics determined Koenig died at the home.
The girlfriend, who was not identified in the complaint, said Thomas invited her and Koenig to his house to watch the game. She dropped Koenig off and returned later to find him and Thomas drinking vodka, the complaint said.
When the game ended, she told police, Thomas' son came out of his bedroom with a new camera, which had pictures of Koenig with his shirt off "doing body building poses," the complaint said.
Thomas saw the photos and asked her what Koenig was doing in the bedroom having his son take the pictures, she told police. Thomas and the girlfriend then confronted Koenig about the photos.
Koenig told them he wanted to post new pictures on his Facebook page, the complaint said. The girlfriend and Thomas told Koenig to leave. That's when Koenig began to yell at Thomas, she told police.
Thomas left the room and returned with a gun, the girlfriend said in the complaint. Thomas again told Koenig to leave, but Koenig moved toward Thomas, she told police.
Thomas then fired the gun, hitting Koenig in the chest.
Curtis also heard Thomas tell Koenig to leave after finding the photos. Thomas is disabled from a bone disease, Curtis and Thomas' family said Tuesday after court.
"He's not a bad guy," Curtis said. "He's usually a happy guy, besides his bone disease."
Curtis told police Koenig "lunged toward" Thomas and the shotgun went off, the complaint said.
Thomas served in the Army during Desert Storm, his family said.
A criminal record search shows Koenig has four convictions for driving while intoxicated, dating back to 1992. A similar search found no convictions for Thomas in Minnesota.
"If there was any other way for my dad to defend himself, he would have taken that route," said Thomas' other son, Brad Thomas, 23, after court. "He's crippled. My dad's not a murderer."
Backstrom said several components are necessary to successfully argue self-defense in a dwelling. State law says a person can use deadly force if it's necessary in resisting or preventing an offense that would cause great bodily harm or death, or in preventing a felony from occurring in the person's dwelling.
Backstrom would not comment on whether Thomas is disabled.
"We're going to present all the facts and circumstances surrounding the case to a grand jury next month," he said. "It's ultimately their decision."
When questioned by police, Thomas said he initially picked up a knife to confront Koenig, but then put it down, grabbed the shotgun and loaded it with one round, the complaint said. He returned to the living room and told Curtis to dial 911. Koenig started coming toward him, Thomas said.
Thomas told officers he aimed the gun at Koenig, who said "are you (expletive) kidding me," before charging him, the complaint said. Thomas said he then fired the shotgun.
Thomas told police he was trying to intimidate Koenig to leave.
District Judge M. Michael Baxter set bail for Thomas at $500,000 without conditions, or $400,000 bail with conditions, including having no contact with witnesses of the incident.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.