Update: Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m.: Slaying Suspect Granted Bond, Released
The attorney of a man charged with murder in Lilburn says his client feared for his life when he fired the fatal shot that killed a 22-year-old Duluth man.
Phillip Sailors, 69, later was arrested and charged with murder. Rodrigo Diaz, 22, the victim, died from his injuries at Gwinnett Medical Center.
Diaz's family has said that a GPS took them to Sailors' driveway by mistake and that he was shot as he pulled away from the home.
As a man who has done Christian missionary work, Sailors is "just not the type of individual that's going around looking to shoot at people without just reason," said Sailors' attorney Michael Puglise.
A Vietnam veteran, Sailors had lived in his Hillcrest Road home for 33 years watching crime escalate in the neighborhood.
At one time, Lilburn "was a nice, quiet suburb town; crime wasn't really a big issue," Puglise said Tuesday evening. However, he added, there has been increased gang violence, drug activity, home invasions, and other crimes.
"That's why it's important, it's imperative that we look at this case as what Mr. Sailors would have perceived," Puglise said.
As a cut-through street from U.S. Highway 29 and Indian Trail Road, Hillcrest Road has become a conduit for "undesirable activities," the attorney said.
Additionally, two to three weeks before the shooting, Puglise said that the neighboring house belonging to the Sailors family was burglarized. There's also gang graffiti on a nearby wall, the attorney said.
"I'm not implying that the four individuals that were in the car were up to no good, but Mr. Sailors doesn't know anything about a GPS leading them there or anything like that."
And, on the evening of Jan. 26, Sailors was sitting at his home with his elderly wife when "he hears a ruckus outside that is out of the ordinary."
"He opens the door, sees one individual run, and then he sees a second run," Puglise said. "He immediately tells his wife to call 911.
"He retrieves his gun thinking that he and his wife are going to be victims of a home invasion or an assault, and he goes out with his pistol, fires a round mainly to scare them off."
Puglise said the first shooting occurred near the home, where the suspect was standing, and where the victim's vehicle initially was parked. At that time, the car accelerates toward Sailors, he added,
Sailors thought he was about to be run over, and that's when the fatal shot was fired, Puglise said. The car continues on, and the final resting place of the Diaz's vehicle was at the end of the driveway, the attorney said.
When police arrived, the car was pointed east. That would be away from the home. The Lilburn Police Department report does not indicate how exactly the vehicle came to rest, only that it did.
David E. Diaz Valencia, the victim's brother, said that Diaz was accelerating out of the driveway when he was shot. Additionally, he had rolled down the window to apologize, the brother said.
"The Sailors family is totally grief struck," Puglise said. "Their hearts go out to the deceased's family."
Police are continuing their investigation. In the meantime, Sailors' attorney says this:
"There's a lot of stuff that people are floating around: Facts that just aren't facts. And, these are all things that we have to be patient don't rush to judgment and wait to get."