Prosecutors plan to drop the murder charge filed against an unlicensed security guard who shot a man in 2020 following dueling rallies in downtown Denver because they don’t believe they can overcome the security guard’s claim that he acted in self-defense.

Matthew Dolloff, 32, shot and killed Lee Keltner, 49, on Oct. 10, 2020, during a confrontation between the pair toward the end of two opposing rallies/" 1014 target="_blank">political rallies in Denver’s Civic Center. One demonstration featured conservative “Patriot Rally” attendees. That group was met by left-leaning counter-protesters.

Dolloff’s attorney, Doug Richards, said prosecutors with the Denver District Attorney’s Office told him they intend to dismiss the second-degree murder case at the pre-trial conference scheduled for March 21. A jury trial was scheduled to begin April 12.

“I’m just really happy for Matt and his family that the DA finally realized what we’d known all along,” Richards said.

A spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office on Thursday confirmed that prosecutors plan to dismiss the murder charge because they cannot overcome Dolloff’s statement that he acted in self-defense. Dolloff had not been charged with anything else in connection with the fatal shooting.

Prosecutors informed Keltner’s family of their decision Thursday, spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler said in an email.

“In line with our ethical obligations, we cannot overcome the legal justifications of self-defense or defense of others,” Tyler said. “We are not able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Under Colorado law, a person can use deadly force in self-defense only if that person reasonably thinks using less force won’t be sufficient, and the person reasonably believes he or someone else faces an immediate threat of being killed or seriously hurt.

There is no duty to retreat under state law, but the action taken in self-defense must be generally proportionate to the attack, experts have said.

A member of Keltner’s family declined to comment on the district attorney’s decision Thursday.

On the day of the rallies, the two sides were kept apart by police for much of the day, until the events began to wind down and protesters started to leave. It was then that Keltner and a handful of others began arguing with counter-protesters near the Denver Art Museum.

Dolloff was working as a security guard for Denver television station 9News at the time, and accompanied a 9News producer as the producer filmed the argument on his cellphone.

The fatal encounter, which was captured by a Denver Post photographer, began when Keltner told the producer to put the camera away and said he was going to “(expletive) him up.”

Dolloff stepped between the two and physically blocked Keltner, who was holding a can of bear spray. Keltner slapped Dolloff in the face. Dolloff pulled a gun from his belt and shot Keltner as Keltner discharged the bear spray.

Dolloff was immediately arrested and later charged with second-degree murder. He said he acted in self-defense. He was not licensed to work as an armed security guard in Denver at the time.

Keltner, who died at the scene, was a respected hat-maker and U.S. Navy veteran who held conservative beliefs and was, toward the end of his life, drawn to political action.

9News declined to comment.

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