Layton homeowner takes plea deal in shooting at alleged burglars

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12 2013 8:16 p.m. MST

Clare Niederhauser stands behind attorney Mitch Velos after his court hearing Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, at 2nd District Court in Layton.

Nick Short,

LAYTON — When Clare Niederhauser pulled the trigger after finding a man attempting to burglarize his home almost two weeks ago, he didn't imagine he would find himself in court.

"I didn't ask for this to come my way," Niederhauser told a Layton judge Tuesday. "I acted the way I thought I should act. … I should have known better."

Originally charged with two counts of reckless endangerment, both class A misdemeanors, the Layton homeowner took a plea in abeyance to the reduced charge of a single class B misdemeanor count of firing a gun over a roadway.

On Jan. 31, Niederhauser arrived at his home to find a strange car in the driveway and a man exiting his house with a crowbar. Niederhauser fired two shots in the incident with the Ruger 357 his concealed carry permit authorized him to have on his person.

The alleged burglar, Robert Santos Cruz, was unharmed and later arrested. 

The case got national attention, and support for Niederhauser came in from all sides.

As part of the deal, Niederhauser will pay a court fee associated with the plea, surrender the firearm used in the incident and complete a course regarding the use of deadly force.

His concealed carry permit likely will be suspended for a year, though there is no restriction on him owning and legally using other firearms. As long as Niederhauser meets the court's conditions and is not convicted of any additional crimes, the charge will be expunged from his record in a year.

Niederhauser's lawyer, Mitch Vilos, read a statement following the court appearance. In it, Niederhauser apologized to Layton police, neighbors and his friends, maintaining their rights to defend themselves, but adding he had no way of knowing where those bullets would land.

“I was not prepared for the effects of emotion and adrenaline and how that interfered with my ability to act in accordance with my training,” Niederhauser's statement read. “I’ve also come to realize my actions made the situation more difficult for the responding police as they had to be concerned about my actions as well as the fleeing felons.”

Vilos specializes in weapons cases and is the author of "self-defense laws of all 50 states," he said. He will offer Niederhauser the four-hour deadly force class at no charge. 

Part of the the defense's motive in taking the plea deal was allowing the court to focus on the "real bad guys," Vilos said. The attorney said he believes Niederhauser had a defensible case, but there was still some question as to whether he would win at trial.

"We're happy that we got this concluded so we can cooperate with the prosecution of this man that appears to be a career criminal," Vilos said as Niederhauser stood quietly by.

Layton's deputy city attorney Steve Garside called the case a "balancing act" between Niederhauser, who fell into a difficult situation, and the alleged burglars, who are accused of intentionally engaging in criminal behavior.

"As we evaluate those cases, they need to be treated separately," Garside said, agreeing that justice had been satisfied regarding Niederhauser's case.

Niederhauser's statement indicated he hopes the case sends a message to career criminals. Vilos, a fellow Davis County resident, said he agreed.

"I train citizens in concealed weapons certification classes," Vilos explained. "It's very, very dangerous for career criminals to come to Davis County because of the number of armed citizens that we do have. … We encourage them to find work elsewhere. Perhaps in Washington, D.C."

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com, blockhart@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero, @benlockhart89

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