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Man convicted of murder in shooting at American Legion post in South Bend

South Bend Tribune, Ind. — Marek Mazurek South Bend Tribune, Ind.

Feb. 14-- Feb. 14--SOUTH BEND -- A jury did not believe that Bruce Bennett was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Theodore Braun at American Legion Post 284 in December 2018.

Braun, 25, had attempted to restrain Bennett after Bennett was seen driving on the sidewalk and hit a mailbox in the lot outside the post.

The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes Thursday before finding Bennett, 60, guilty of Braun's murder.

The guilty verdict came at the end of a four-day trial this week. Bennett also pleaded guilty to a firearm enhancement in the crime.

Police were dispatched to American Legion Post 284, in the 23000 block of Grant Street, on Dec. 14, 2018, on a report of a shooting, according to court documents.

Police said that witnesses saw Bennett driving a vehicle that evening on the sidewalk immediately in front of the post, and struck objects before he parked in a spot in front of the facility.

Several people approached Bennett's vehicle and talked to him, including Braun, according to court documents. Bennett then walked through the gathering of people and into the post, where people attempted to talk to him and have him remain until police arrived.

Prosecutors say Bennett then drew a handgun on his right side and fired one shot, striking Braun, who collapsed. Other patrons then took Bennett to the ground and grabbed the gun, according to court documents.

The case centered on whether Bennett acted in self-defense and he alleged Braun restrained him to the point of being unable to breathe.

During closing arguments, Bennett's attorney claimed Braun sat on Bennett. Bennett then panicked and shot Braun.

"He pulled the trigger with no other thought than, 'I need to breathe,'" attorney Michael Tuszynski said.

Meanwhile, prosecutors used their closing statements to summarize witness testimony which showed that Bennett never felt threatened during the interaction. Prosecutors said one witness heard Bennett say "He won't let me leave," in the moments before Bennett shot Braun.

"That's petulance, not panic," said deputy prosecuting attorney Eric Tamashasky.

Bennett shot Braun in the chest at point-blank range, according to evidence presented in the case.

According to Indiana law, deadly force in the act of self-defense requires a "reasonable belief" that seriously bodily injury is imminent.

Some of Braun's friends attended the trial Thursday and said they remember him as a charismatic, outgoing person.

"Teddy just had a presence about him that made him own the room," said A.J. Jordanek, a friend of Braun's.

Jordanek said he and Braun bonded over the loss of family members, and it was Braun who convinced him to become involved in the American Legion.

Bennett is scheduled to be sentenced March 13. He will face a prison sentence of 45 to 65 years on the murder conviction, plus another five to 20 years for the firearm enhancement.

mmazurek@sbtinfo.com

574-235-6234

@marek_mazurek

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