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Police offer few details on killing of prowler

Grants Pass police are releasing little information about a Tuesday night incident in which a resident of West Park Street shot and killed a stranger outside his home.

Officers were on their way to the home, located near where West Park dead-ends behind the Josephine County Fairgrounds, in response to a report of a prowler when dispatchers were told that the stranger was trying to break into the residence. Shots were fired moments later.

When the officers arrived, they found 32-year-old Matthew J. Durbin dead near the side of the home. The residents were unhurt.

There are two homes on the property, which is owned by Chuck Smith and his father, Walter Smith. Chuck Smith lives in one of the homes when he's in town, but he was away when the shooting happened. He said his tenant, who lives in the other home and fired the gun, doesn't want to comment on the shooting.

"He is extremely upset," Smith said.

Smith called the tenant a "nice, quiet family man" and said he lives there with his wife and two young children.

Smith himself has lived at the property for 40 years. He said the neighborhood took a turn for the worse when the city installed a bike and pedestrian path through the area, which runs between the fairgrounds and the Rogue River.

The path cuts through his street, right in front of his house. Since it went in, he said, the street has become a thoroughfare of sorts for transients.

He said sarcastically, "The city has blessed us with the greenway, and ever since then we can't even get our mail. They have turned a nice neighborhood into a nightmare."

It is not clear how Durbin ended up on the property, or whether he had been using the greenway. Police have disclosed few specifics in the case.

Public Safety Director Bill Landis said investigators are still trying to piece together what happened. The District Attorney's Office is also looking into the shooting.

District Attorney Ryan Mulkins said in an email, "All I can say at this point is the investigation is ongoing."

The shooting was a hot topic on local community Facebook sites, with users wondering whether a resident can legally shoot someone who is outside a home.

Oregon law states that a person may use deadly physical force against another person in certain circumstances, including if the first person believes the perpetrator is "committing or attempting to commit a burglary in a dwelling."

Tung Yin, law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, said the legality of the West Park shooting likely depends on the specifics of what happened. For example, he said, if the resident went outside to talk to the trespasser and the trespasser charged at him, the shooting could be more easily justified than if the resident were "inside the house and starts shooting through the window without any warning."

He said there are many factors that play into a district attorney's decision on whether to charge someone in a use-of-deadly-force case.

"Even if the police are able to determine what happened and they determine it in a way that looks bad for the homeowner, the prosecutor might decide, 'Yeah, I could get an indictment, but I don't think it's worth it,'" Yin said.

Court records list Durbin, a 2001 Grants Pass High School graduate, as the son of retired Oregon State Police Capt. Dan Durbin, and as a Salem resident.

According to court records, he successfully completed drug court in Polk County following a 2014 conviction for methamphetamine possession there.

The shooting was the first homicide in the city since a murder-suicide on Northwest Sunset Drive in May.