As friends surmised, Colorado Springs liquor store owner Donat Herr died fighting, macing two masked thieves before being fatally shot by a third.
The 68-year-old was killed Feb. 15 in his store, Empire Liquor, 3381 N. Academy Blvd., during an armed robbery right before closing time, police say.
Prosecutors described the circumstances leading to Herr's death during a court hearing Friday on the evidence against 19-year-old Phinehas Daniels, who is accused of pulling the trigger.
Three shots were fired, but only one hit Herr, a police investigator testified. An autopsy determined the .45-caliber bullet entered Herr's right side and traveled downward, piercing his liver, stomach and kidney before exiting.
Two of the accused robbers - a 13-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy - carried airsoft guns, one resembling a shotgun and the other a pistol, police Detective Derek Graham testified at Daniels' preliminary hearing. A judge ruled that Daniels will stand trial on charges of first-degree murder.
A break in the case came in early September, when the youngest of the three defendants agreed to cooperate in exchange for consideration at sentencing, Graham said. Police interviewed him days before they arrested 16-year-old Isaiah Trujillo, who has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder.
Trujillo was identified in court as the younger boy's cousin.
The 13-year-old said he and his cousin ran out of the store after Herr hit them in the eyes with a stream of Mace. They said they heard shooting as they headed for the door, Graham said.
After they piled into a getaway car - Daniels' Ford Crown Victoria - Daniels said he had the chemical spray on his hands but not in his eyes and acknowledged he went "trigger happy" while trying to get away, the boy reportedly told Graham.
After the shooting, employees and owners of nearby businesses said they wouldn't be surprised if Herr had resisted, describing him as a "fighter," who wouldn't obey robbers' demands for money even at gunpoint.
"If somebody tried to rob him, he would fight back. That's the kind of person he was," Amy Nguyen, who works two doors away at Spa Pedicure, said after the shooting.
Police had withheld details about Herr using Mace but encouraged store clerks to always comply during robberies - advice that some local business owners said they're unwilling to accept.
The 13-year-old, whose name hasn't been released, also helped solve the mystery of how the teenagers obtained a gun, Graham said.
He told police that Daniels found the pistol inside the cab of a pickup he had broken into one day earlier in a motel parking lot, while preparing for a different robbery.
The teen also described how Daniels stole a .38-caliber Ruger pistol from a different vehicle. Daniels sold that weapon for $180, Graham said. Daniels and four teenagers have been tied to a string of robberies across the city in January and February in which masked and armed robbers demanded cash, mainly at 24-hour convenience stores.
Those holdups had begun receiving publicity, so Daniels proposed robbing a liquor store instead to break up the pattern, leading to the deadly confrontation with Herr, the boy told Graham.
Daniels initially denied being at Empire Liquor, but he later changed his story, saying he agreed to hold open the door.
Police said they found a box of .45-caliber ammunition in the dishwasher while searching the apartment Daniels shares with his mother.
Graham said Daniels also has been tied to a second shooting, though no one was injured in that case. Ballistics testing showed that he allegedly fired the same gun that killed Herr, police said.
The cases against the other boys are pending.
Daniels is due back in court Dec. 18 for his arraignment.