The thieves approached the house under the cover of darkness, sneaking behind the two-bedroom dwelling in Chandler rented by Arizona State University student Zachary Rowe.
Rowe, 25, was a pre-law major in his final year as an undergrad. He lived alone with his dog, Chloe, and apparently was watching TV on a December night in 2008 when Chloe sensed that intruders were nearing the house's rear entrance. She moved toward it, barking.
Alarmed, Rowe grabbed the .40-caliber Glock he always kept nearby, one of a handful of weapons later found in the house. He fired twice at the men, either returning fire or firing first.
One of the thieves also was armed with a handgun and shot twice at Rowe.
According to an autopsy performed by the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner, one of the bullets passed across the top of Rowe's scalp, grazing the top of the brain and lodging in the skull.
The other bullet cut a more deadly path, entering from the back of the head and exiting from the left temple. This probably was the kill shot, whether it came first or second.
The thieves had come looking for drugs and money. Rowe dealt marijuana, heroin, pills. It was a classic drug rip gone awry. Now the two men were faced with the possibility of a murder-one rap.