Polk County Sheriff's detectives are conducting a death investigation in Winter Haven on Sunday, May 27, 2012. Preliminary information so far is as follows:
Around 3:55 a.m. this morning, PCSO received a 911 call from the homeowner at 410 Lake Daisy Drive in Winter Haven. The reportee told PCSO dispatchers that she heard a noise outside her house, and that her back porch motion-detection light had turned on. When she looked out onto the screened-in back porch, she saw an unknown man laying on her back patio table - he had broken into her screened-in back porch. The woman immediately called 911 and locked herself in her bathroom.
As deputies headed to the scene, another 911 call was received at the PCSO Emergency Communications Center from 412 Lake Daisy Drive, the residence next door. The reportee, 33-year-old William Cornwell (DOB 7/22/78) told dispatchers that an unknown man had just broken into his home and that he (Cornwell) fatally shot the intruder.
The deceased suspect has been positively identifed as 40-year-old Christopher Brian Deese, DOB 10/16/1971, whose last known address was 119 Moss Road in Auburndale. His parents, who live out-of-state, have been notified of his death.
According to interviews with Deese's acquaintances, Deese started out drinking with friends at the Somewhere lounge, located in the same strip mall as Gold's Gym on Cypress Gardens Blvd in southeast Winter Haven. His truck was left there, and has been located by PCSO detectives. From there, Deese and his friends went to The Grove lounge on Cypress Gardens Road. According to his friends, Deese became quite intoxicated.
One of Deese's friends then took him to a house in Winter Haven, where eventually Deese got into a physical fight with someone, likely causing the laceration above his eye. Deese was asked to leave. Deese asked his friend who had brought him to that house to take him to Lake Daisy Estates, because, he said, he had a friend there. Deese directed his friend to drop him off on Lake Daisy Drive, near houses 410 and 412, the two houses he broke into.
It is confirmed Deese did not know any of the residents at these houses, nor did they know him.
When Deese arrived at 410 Lake Daisy Drive, he may have first gone to the front porch (blood drops have been found there) of that home. He then broke into the screened-in back porch and laid down on a table there. He then, for unknown reasons, went next door to 412 Lake Daisy Drive and began banging on the front door, screaming, cursing, and demanding to be let in.
Traci Cornwell, William's wife, was sleeping in the living room and was awakened by the sound of a man banging on the door and screaming. She woke up her husband William, who armed himself with his handgun and yelled through the door several times at the suspect to go away and that he had the wrong house. Deese continued to bang on the front screen door and the front solid door.
William opened the front solid door and continued to yell at Deese through the screen door to leave. Deese then opened the screen door and ran into the Cornwells' home. William retreated, fumbling with his handgun, causing an accidental discharge of one round into the ground. After the shot was fired into the ground, Deese stopped briefly, took off his shirt, yelled, "You wanna fight?" and ran directly at William. William fired one more round into the Deese's chest, killing him.
The Cornwells' 3-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter were sleeping in their beds during this incident.
"If there ever was a justified shooting, this is it," said Sheriff Grady Judd. "This is a classic 'Castle Doctrine' case -- William Cornwell had every right to protect himself, his wife, and his children, from this irrational, out of control man who broke into their home. The mistake Christopher Deese made by breaking into that home was a fatal one."
William Cornwell was involved in a similar incident on March 18, 2009, when he lived in the city of Lake Wales. An intruder broke into his home, and William shot him two times. The suspect fled the scene, and was later apprehended. He is currently in state prison. The shooting was deemed justified by the State Attorney's Office. I do not have any further information about this investigation - it was handled by the Lake Wales Police Department.
William Cornwell is a security guard with Winter Haven Hospital and a U.S. Navy veteran.
The Florida Castle Doctrine was enacted in October 2005, and is governed by Florida State Staute 776, which can be found here: