Don Purse, Mobile Home Park Owner, Claims Self-Defense in 2012 Shooting of Ex-Tenant

Don Purse, a Scottsdale resident and owner of several Valley mobile home parks, claimed he was in fear of his life last year after he shot his former tenant, Danny Morales.

Morales, 51, was 20 years younger than Purse and bigger when he allegedly attacked Purse on December 11, 2012. But the facts show that Purse had a couple of advantages, himself: He had a .45-caliber pistol in his hand. And he was seated in the driver's seat of his pickup, apparently with the motor still running.

The incident is one of three similar cases we reviewed for our feature article in this week's New Times, "License to Kill."

The other two cases also involved men who were sitting in their vehicles when they shot unarmed men standing just outside: The high-profile, road-rage cases of Scottsdale lawyer David Appleton and John Chester Stuart. A grand jury refused to indict Appleton. Stuart was convicted last month by a second jury; the first trial ended in a hung jury even though Stuart had represented himself.

The Purse case has been low-profile so far, having been covered only by one or two TV stations on the day of the shooting. But like the Appleton and Stuart cases, the shooting of Danny Morales and the lack of any charges so far for Purse symbolizes the permissive self-defense laws in Arizona.

We're not saying Purse wasn't justified, because we weren't at the scene when Morales was killed. Evidence detailed in a preliminary police report shows that Purse probably took at least one punch to the face by Morales.

We played phone tag with Purse over the last couple of weeks, but were never able to interview him.

But the fact that Purse was in his car, armed, and Morales was on foot, unarmed, certainly raises questions. A paucity of witnesses makes the case even more problematic, as our story relates. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office has not yet received the case for review from the Sheriff's Office.

Arizona law states that, with some exceptions, citizens are presumed to be acting in self-defense when they use deadly force against people who have entered or are attempting to enter their home or vehicle with bad intent. As a defense lawyer told us, the ultimately standard is reasonableness -- that is, the law doesn't protect people if it's clear no threat existed.

When witnesses are few -- or there are no living witnesses, as in the case of Appleton -- police and prosecutors must rely on the word of the person who used deadly force. For better or worse, depending on which end of the gun you're on, Arizona law clearly leans toward protecting the person claiming self-defense.

If you're claiming self-defense, that means less risk of prosecution for doing something that you believed saved your life. The law also has potential for abuse. Since the Trayvon Martin case in Floria, debates are still going on around the nation about "stand your ground" laws and whether they need to be changed.

Senator John McCain says the State Legislature lawmakers should review Arizona's self-defense laws in light of the Martin case. Firearms advocates tell us they don't expect any changes next year from the gun-friendly Legislature.

Our feature article this week gets into the nitty-gritty of the debate. In it, you'll hear from David Appleton about the night he shot Paul "Tom" Pearson, family members of one victim, and various firearms and legal experts.

Are Arizona self-defense laws too loose? Read our story this week and decide for yourself.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern