Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Auburn, Alabama

From the Montgomery Advertiser of December 6, 2005
Al Benn's Alabama: Hatfield used Magnum force to protect store

Two men thought they had developed the "perfect crime." It might have worked if Jerry Hatfield hadn't messed it up for them.

What they got was a hail of bullets from a man who wasn't going to let them steal his possessions or harm five people they held hostage.

At least 17 bullet holes were left in and around Hatfield's electronics store on Dec. 3, 1999. Others weren't found by police.

It began when one of the men entered the store at closing time. He pulled out a wad of bills and then said he needed to go outside to get a "friend" who knew about electronics.

As soon as the two returned, they pulled out weapons, took three employees hostage and then herded them into a back room where they bound them with tape and rope.

A few minutes later, two more people were hostages. One was an employee's wife who had arrived to pick him up from work.

The men then drove a rental truck through a rear entrance where they began filling it with car stereos and other expensive electronic equipment. They realized it was too heavy for them, so they untied one of the hostages and ordered him to help.

Hatfield, who had been staying in a living area above the large store, heard the noise below, but thought his employees were doing some late-night work.

When he peered through a one-way mirror, Hatfield quickly sized up the situation. He grabbed his guns and walked onto a balcony overlooking the crime scene.

One of the two spotted him and said 'Come on down, sir,'" Hatfield recalled.

"He had a gun in his hand," he said. "I remember thinking to myself that I wasn't a hero, but I wasn't about to go down those steps, either."

That's when the bullets began flying. The man at the bottom of the stairs fired first. His shot missed Hatfield, but penetrated a doorknob at the top of the stairs.

"The floor exploded beneath me as bullets ripped through it," Hatfield said. "I then traded my assault rifle for a long barrel .44 Magnum."

Those who have seen the "Dirty Harry" movies know that's the weapon carried by actor Clint Eastwood. It can put a big hole in walls -- and people.

As the firing continued, Hatfield managed to call Selma police. A dispatcher could hear the gunfire in the background.

Then, one of the hostages was released and ordered to climb the stairs. He was told to get Hatfield out of his hiding place. The hostage pleaded with Hatfield not to fire through the door.

"He told me 'Please do not kill me. They are making me kick your door in,'" Hatfield said. "It was the most harrowing moment during the entire ordeal."

Hatfield didn't fire through the door or unlock it. Instead, he reloaded his pistols and rifles and waited for what he thought would be his last stand.

"My office was riddled with bullet holes everywhere I looked," he said last week during an interview. "Sometimes I got splinters in my mouth and eyes from the shattered wood. I guess the good Lord just wasn't ready for me that day."

To his amazement, every shot missed him. He almost got one of the robbers as he emerged from his office and fired his .44-caliber Magnum down the steps.

The round went through the man's thick sweatshirt and missed him, but created a booming noise inside the building.

By that time, the two had enough. They ran outside the store where one was captured by police. The other was caught in Birmingham a few days later.

Robert Howard Jr. and Edward Leon Turner are serving long prison sentences for their not-so-perfect crime.

Should Hatfield have just waited for police to arrive? He doesn't ask himself that question because he believes he did the right thing.

"I'm convinced they would have killed the hostages had I not been there," he said.

One day after the incident, a friend visited Hatfield and they talked about how dangerous it is to run a business with valuable merchandise.

A few days later, his friend and a female employee were shot to death in their pawn shop in nearby Orrville.

They never had a chance. The gunman, who is on death row, opened fire on them the moment he entered their store.

No comments:

Post a Comment