WINTER HAVEN – A man who was fatally shot after breaking into a Winter Haven house had no criminal record in Florida or Polk County, and detectives are still trying to piece together why he went to that house where he lost his life after breaking in and threatening the owner.
Christopher Brian Reese, 40, of 2611 Highlands Vue Court in Lakeland, was shot and killed early Sunday morning. His parents, who live out-of-state, have been notified of his death.
Detectives with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office are interviewing Reese’s friends and the people he was socializing with on the Saturday evening just prior to the shooting, trying to piece together the chain of events that led to him going to a home in the Lake Daisy Drive area.
“It is clear so far that Reese did not know any of the people living at 410 or 412 Lake Daisy Drive, nor did they know him,’’ said Carrie Eleazor, public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, in her report on the case.
But because Reese was reported to have charged into one of the homes and threatened to assault the man living there, the Polk County sheriff said the shooting was clearly justified.
“If there ever was a justified shooting, this is it,” said Sheriff Grady Judd. “This is a classic ‘Castle Doctrine’ case — William Cornwell had every right to protect himself, his wife, and his children, from this irrational, out of control man who broke into their home. The mistake Christopher Reese made by breaking into that home was a fatal one.”
Reese did not have a Florida driver’s license, or any prior arrests in Polk County. He had an Alabama driver’s license, and his only prior arrest was for driving under the influence on May 29, 1994, in Mobile, Alabama.
“It does not appear he has any other criminal history,’’ Eleazer noted.
What is known is that around 3:55 a.m. on Sunday, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office got a 911 call from the homeowner at 410 Lake Daisy Drive in Winter Haven, who told dispatchers she heard a noise outside her house, and her back porch motion-detection light had turned on.
When she looked out onto the screened-in back porch, there was a man laying on her back patio table, who had broken in there.
The woman frantically called 911 and locked herself in her bathroom.
As deputies were headed to the scene, the Polk County Sheriff’s Emergency Communications Center got a call from a resident at the house next door at 412 Lake Daisy Drive. The caller, William Cornwell, said a stranger had just broken into his home. Cornwell said he responded by shooting him in self-defense.
The intruder was found dead at the scene, and identified as Reese.
Eleazer said that according to the investigation so far, Reese had a cut above his right eye from an earlier altercation that likely happened before he got to the two Lake Daisy Drive homes. There were blood drops found on the front porch of the house at 410 Lake Daisy Drive.
“He then broke into the screened-in back porch and laid down on a table there,’’ Eleazer noted. “He then, for unknown reasons, went next door to 412 Lake Daisy Drive and began banging on the front door, screaming, cursing, and demanding to be let in.”
That woke up Traci Cornwell, the wife of William Cornwell, who was sleeping on the couch. When she heard the sound of a man banging on the door and screaming, she woke up her husband. He “armed himself with his handgun and yelled through the door several times at the suspect to go away and that he had the wrong house,” Eleazer said.
But Reese continued to bang on the front screen door and the front solid door, Eleazer said, prompting William Cornwell to open that door and demand that Reese leave. Reese responded by opening the screen door and running into the house, the sheriff’s report notes.
“William retreated, fumbling with his handgun, causing an accidental discharge of one round into the ground,” Eleazer said. “After the shot was fired into the ground, Reese stopped briefly, took off his shirt, yelled, ‘You wanna fight?’ and ran directly at William. William fired one more round into the Reese’s chest, killing him.”
The Cornwells’ 3-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter were sleeping in their beds during the shooting, and did not get hurt.
Eleazer reported that William Cornwell, 33, had been involved in a similar incident on March 18, 2009, when he lived in Lake Wales. An intruder broke into his home, and William Cornwell shot him two times. The suspect fled the scene, was later apprehended, and is currently in state prison.
“The (Lake Wales) shooting was deemed justified by the State Attorney’s Office,” Eleazer noted.
William Cornwell works as a security guard with Winter Haven Hospital and is a U.S. Navy veteran.
The Florida Castle Doctrine was passed in October 2005.
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