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No charges in shooting of Ga. Alzheimer's patient

Published: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 1:31 p.m. CDT

ATLANTA — A man who fatally shot a wandering Alzheimer's patient in the early morning hours in north Georgia will not face criminal charges, a local prosecutor said Friday.

Joe Hendrix, 35, fatally shot 72-year-old Ronald Westbrook on Nov. 27. The elderly man had slipped from his home as early as 1 a.m. and wandered in the cold and dark for hours until randomly approaching the home of Hendrix's fiancee on a rural cul-de-sac, repeatedly knocking on the door and ringing the bell.

Hendrix's fiancee called 911, while Hendrix grabbed his .40-caliber handgun, went outside and confronted Westbrook in the dark. Hendrix told police that he fired four shots after Westbrook ignored commands to stop, identify himself and raise his hands.

District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin's office characterized the incident as a "tragic shooting death" in a written statement. Franklin did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

"I'm a little upset," said Deanne Westbrook, the slain man's widow. She said she felt police and prosecutors had done a thorough job. "I really wanted to see it go before a grand jury, and then maybe before a jury. But they tell me there's not enough evidence for that."

Hendrix appreciated the care and deliberation shown by investigators, said his attorney, Lee Davis

"Mr. Hendrix fully acknowledges the loss to Westbrook family, and his thoughts and prayers are with them," Davis said in a statement.

A series of chance events, even a missed opportunity, preceded the shooting.

On Nov. 19, Hendrix's fiancee called 911 just before midnight to report that a man carrying a piece of paper and a flashlight rang her doorbell and wanted to see a person whose name she did not recognize, according to Hendrix's attorney and police reports obtained by The Associated Press under the state's open records laws. The woman had only recently moved into the rented home and was suspicious, Davis said previously.

Worried, the fiancee called Hendrix, who told her to call 911. By the time Hendrix and police officers arrived, the suspicious man was gone. Afterward, Hendrix, a former soldier, took a handgun from his apartment in nearby Chattanooga, Tenn., and brought the weapon to his fiancee's home.

About a week later, Westbrook slipped out unnoticed from the home he shared with his wife of 51 years. Westbrook suffered from Alzheimer's, a progressive disease that causes memory loss, impairs judgment and can leave it victims disoriented. His widow, Deanne, previously said her husband had become confused about where he lived and struggled to identify those closest to him.

She said she installed alarms on her doors to prevent her husband from wandering, but she didn't hear them when he left with the couple's two dogs, possibly as early as 1 a.m.

A deputy sheriff noticed Westbrook walking along a road around 2:30 a.m. and stopped to question him, Walker County Steve Wilson said previously. Westbrook told the officer that he was getting his mail — he was near mailboxes — and then planned to return home. Nothing about the conversation alarmed the officer.

Just before 4 a.m., Hendrix and his fiancee woke up to barking dogs and realized someone was ringing their doorbell, knocking on their door and trying to get in, police said. Hendrix's fiancee called 911 while Hendrix went outside with his gun.

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