Strasburg graduate tackles stand-your-ground laws

By Ryan Cornell

As one life ended with a gunshot, another’s changed.

In January 2009, 16-year-old Brendon Barker was shot and killed in the attic of his girlfriend’s home. The girlfriend’s father, Jody Bradley, was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison for second-degree murder and three years for use of a firearm in commission of a felony.

Colin Christensen would have graduated from Strasburg High School alongside Barker that next year. Although Christensen said they weren’t particularly close friends and talked occasionally, he grew close to the family and was appointed their spokesman during the court proceedings. He said the verdict devastated him.

“The verdict made no sense to me,” he said. “At 16 years old, it was the most mentally and emotionally exhausting experience I’ve ever been through.”

He said that during the trial, Bradley’s defense attorney tried to invoke the castle doctrine in his closing arguments, which states that a person can use deadly force to protect one’s home or “castle.” Virginia does not have a castle law.

Stand-your-ground laws are similar with one caveat: the individual using deadly force doesn’t need to be on one’s own dwelling.

Now a senior at Emory & Henry College in Southwestern Virginia, Christensen, 21, is graduating this spring with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and is pursuing a law career and mission that’s been fueled by Barker’s murder case.

He dedicated his undergraduate research to the castle doctrine and wrote an article that was one of four published in the April 2013 issue of the Columbia Undergraduate Law Review.

Christensen appeared on a CNN generational panel with anchor Don Lemon and two college students on Sunday, discussing stand-your-ground laws and the effect of the Michael Dunn verdict on racial relations.

Dunn was convicted on three counts of attempted murder for firing 10 bullets toward a group of black teens in an SUV and killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. He faces more than 60 years in prison.

Christensen told the panel that stand-your-ground laws should be repealed.

“We have an entire generation of adolescents who have been robbed of their innocence because of these cases, and no one feels that theft more acutely than our black brothers and sisters in this country,” he said during the segment.

“And this is a problem when we have children dying because their music is too loud or they’re wearing hoodies. That’s the real travesty here, and we have to fix these laws to send the message that this behavior is unacceptable.”

Christensen said he enjoyed a modest amount of celebrity status around the 950-student Emory & Henry campus after it aired.

“They sent out a mass email and everyone watched it,” he said. “It’s a great resume piece.

“It’s one thing to be on CNN just because you fall into an age group, but it’s another thing to get invited for a purpose and talk about an issue you want to speak about professionally.”

This was his second time on national TV. He appeared on the network last July discussing the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial, which found Zimmerman not guilty on all counts stemming from fatally shooting black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida two years ago.

Christensen described his CNN appearances as part of his mission in leading the socio-legal discussion on self-defense and the castle doctrine.

“I have a goal in mind every time I get in front of one of those cameras,” he said. “To bring some sense of good from [Barker’s] tragedy and fight for the justice he never received.”

Christensen will be attending law school this fall, through he hasn’t decided on which one yet. He has received a fully funded offer to attend the Berkeley School of Law in California.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com