WKRN News 2

Self-defense laws could protect man who killed prankster during fake robbery

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — An attempted prank robbery in the parking lot of an indoor trampoline park went terribly wrong this weekend, leaving the prankster dead and the man who fired his weapon likely covered by self-defense laws.

It happened at Urban Air Trampoline Park in Old Hickory just after 9 p.m. Saturday night. Police say a man shot and killed a 20-year-old who came up to him yielding butcher knives, he thought he was being attacked, but apparently, it was all a prank.

“If it has all the appearances of a real assault, if it’s reasonable under the circumstances, then you can even use deadly force to protect yourself,” Nashville Criminal Defense Attorney David Raybin told News 2.

Police say 20-year-old Timothy Wilks and his friend were waving butcher knives as they walked up to the group of people attempting a fake a robbery for a YouTube video.

In that group was 23-year-old David Starnes, who told police he thought it was real, so he pulled out his gun and shot Wilks, killing him.

But Starnes wasn’t arrested and is not currently facing any charges. Raybin said he shouldn’t.

“From the person who did the shooting, it doesn’t really matter whether it was a prank or not. You know I’ve had cases where somebody would rob somebody else and said, ‘Ah, I was just kidding, it was a prank.’ We don’t know, that person is dead. You can make all sorts of excuses as to why you’re robbing something, but from a personal standpoint, whether it was real or whether it was a prank, it doesn’t matter,” he explained.

Tennessee is one of many states with a ‘Stand Your Ground’ law stating a person does not have to retreat in a situation of self-defense before resorting to deadly force.

“Self-defense is a subjective defense. It is based on what the person believes to be true at the time,” Raybin added, “And you can be honestly mistaken about the degree of danger, as long as it was real.”

It doesn’t have to be proven without doubt, but it does have to be verified by a number of factors, Raybin explained, “How far apart they were, what was happening, how many shots were fired? What kind of weapon did he have? why did he think he was in danger? what do the other witnesses say?”

Gun permits are not public record in Tennessee, but police confirmed Wilks was shot more than once.

Under YouTube policies, this kind of prank video isn’t allowed on their site.

Two years ago, YouTube changed their content policies after the ‘Bird Box’ Challenge went viral, prompting people to post videos of themselves doing things blindfolded, and other challenges encouraged youth to eat Tide Pods and set themselves on fire.

News 2 reached out to YouTube owner Google; a spokesperson pointed us to a FAQs page on their website from 2019 which states they “don’t allow pranks that make victims believe they’re in serious physical danger.”

Police say this is an ongoing investigation.