Goodbye handgun. Hello lightning rod.

Since he readied, aimed and fired at a fleeing intruder in his federally subsidized Rockland apartment in September, Harvey Lembo has become a legend in his own time: Tired of burglars coming after his prescription painkillers, he went out and bought himself a gun.

Then, a mere 12 hours later, Lembo used it – plugging Christopher Wildhaber, 45, in the shoulder after he allegedly broke into Lembo’s humble abode and tried to run while Lembo called 911.

We’ll get back to that late-night drama in a minute.

But first, this being about guns and all, a look at the fallout from the shot heard round the Park Place apartment complex:

Stanford Management, which runs the complex, subsequently told Lembo the gun was against property rules and ordered him to give it up or move out.


Lembo sued, with the help of (who else?) the National Rifle Association.

At the same time, the National Rifle Association threw its full weight behind state legislation to prohibit private landlords who accept federal subsidies from restricting tenants’ possession or transport of firearms or ammunition within their rental units. The new law takes effect in July.

Meanwhile, back in court, Lembo’s lawsuit now awaits motions from attorneys on both sides concerning whether presiding Justice William Stokes should recuse himself because, as mayor of Augusta, he was once a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

In short, seven-plus months after Lembo pulled the trigger, that single shot from his 7 mm Russian-made revolver continues to reverberate all over Maine.

Still, going back to that fateful moment, one strikingly simple question remains: Shouldn’t Lembo be charged in the shooting?

No, I’m not kidding. I’m simply reading Chapter 5, Section 104 of the Maine Criminal Code, titled “Use of force in defense of premises.”


It says that “deadly force” is permitted if the person in a dwelling reasonably believes that an intruder “has entered or is attempting to enter the dwelling place or has surreptitiously remained within the dwelling place without a license or privilege to do so … and is committing or is likely to commit some other crime within the dwelling place.”

So far so good for Lembo, who uses a wheelchair to get around. Wildhaber was allegedly in the apartment stealing medications when Lembo awoke, pulled his newly purchased, fully loaded handgun from under his pillow and told Wildhaber to sit on a coffee table while Lembo called the cops.

But the law’s not finished. It goes on to say that a person may use deadly force under the previously described circumstances “only if the person first demands the person against whom such deadly force is to be used to terminate the criminal trespass and the trespasser fails to immediately comply with the demand, unless the person reasonably believes that it would be dangerous to the person or a 3rd person to make the demand.”

Put more simply, before you shoot, you have to say something like “get the hell out of here” and then give the intruder a chance to vamoose.

In a videotaped interview with the Bangor Daily News the day after the shooting, Lembo explained how he’d bought the gun after burglars broke into his home five times in the previous six years in search of his morphine, his OxyContin and other meds. “I’m just a walking drug store,” he said.

He told how he awoke to find the intruder riffling through his pill containers, ordered him to sit still on the coffee table, called 911 and told the dispatcher “If he makes a move, I’m going to shoot him.”


“And she says, ‘No, no. Don’t do that,’ ” Lembo recalled.

He continued, “About that time, he made a bolt for the door. He was going out the back door. And as he did, I turned around and shot him.”

Police later found Wildhaber in woods near the apartment complex. He faces charges of burglary, theft of medication, attempted theft and three counts of refusing to submit to arrest.

Lembo, meanwhile, dug himself in even deeper on that videotape when he explained what was going through his mind as he pulled the trigger.

“I didn’t want to hit him, you, know, where it would kill him. I wanted to hit him, you know, so he’d live,” he said. “I didn’t want him dying on me. So in my mind I had no choice, I had to put a stop to it. Hopefully they will see around town that people are going to stop letting them get away with it and start standing up for themselves and maybe this town will become peaceful again.”

Or maybe it won’t.


For starters, Lembo isn’t just a guy with a gun. He’s a guy with a gun who lives surrounded by a variety of potent opioids, which arguably might impair his judgment at that critical moment when he wraps his finger around the trigger and asks himself, “Now what?”

And on the night in question, by his own admission, Lembo was no longer simply trying to defend himself and his castle when he squeezed that trigger. With the intruder in full flight, Lembo was sending a message: Forget about, as the law puts it, “terminating the criminal trespass.” You break into my apartment, you get shot.

Contacted Thursday, Knox County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said he has not yet decided whether to charge Lembo criminally, noting that his office is still awaiting an “additional piece of information which is not yet available.”

“Once we’re in possession of all the information we need, we can certainly evaluate it all,” Rushlau said.

Of course, charging Lembo with, say, elevated aggravated assault after all that’s transpired would be the hardest of sells to any jury, not to mention the public at large.

Even William Harwood, who filed a brief in Lembo’s civil case on behalf of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, acknowledged in court this week that Lembo emerges as a sympathetic figure in this whole saga.


But the fact remains that Lembo shot a man who was no longer trespassing, but rather was trying to get away.

That’s not defense of one’s premises.

That’s payback.

And like it or not, that’s against Maine law.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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