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Criminal case against unlicensed security guard could come down to self-defense argument

Matthew Dolloff, accused of shooting and killing Lee Keltner during dueling rallies, will have his first court appearance Wednesday.

DENVER, Colorado — EDITOR’S NOTE: 9NEWS is used to covering many different kinds of stories, but usually we’re not directly involved in them. For this reason, Casey Nolen from our sister station KSDK in St. Louis is covering the initial stages of the shooting and investigation.

Murder or self-defense? That's the question the Colorado justice system could have to answer in the case against Matthew Dolloff. 

The process begins Wednesday morning with his first appearance in district court.

Dolloff was taken into custody last Saturday following the shooting near the Denver Art Museum (DAM) near the end of dueling demonstrations that included members of Black Lives Matter and other groups on one side, as well as people attending what was called a "Patriot Muster." 

RELATED: Security guard arrested after fatal shooting near dueling Denver rallies

The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner identified the victim as Lee Keltner, 49.

Keltner, reportedly a Navy veteran, worked as a hatter and was also a part of Colorado’s Motorcycle community. The Biker Down Charity has started a fundraiser for his family, describing him as a husband, father and friend to many.

RELATED: Victim in downtown Denver rally shooting IDd by medical examiner

Dolloff was contracted through the company Pinkerton by 9NEWS. It has been the practice of 9NEWS for a number of months to contract private security to accompany staff at protests. Denver Police said in a tweet that Dolloff was "acting in a professional capacity as an armed security guard."

In a photo captured by a Denver Post photojournalist, Keltner is seen spraying what authorities believe was bear mace and Dolloff is seen pointing a handgun at Keltner.

Credit: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

In the next instant, Keltner can be seen in video from a bystander collapsing to the ground. Authorities said he died from a single gunshot wound.

RELATED: Video shows moments before, during and after shooting at dueling Denver rallies

RELATED: Videos, digital images likely evidence in fatal shooting near dueling Denver protests

It is what happened in the seconds before that could determine Dolloff's fate.

The Denver District Attorney charged the 30-year-old with murder in the second degree.

RELATED: Unlicensed security guard held on $500,000 bond following shooting at dueling protests

Doug Richards, an attorney for the Dolloff family, told 9NEWS in a statement:

"Matt was acting in self-defense. Matt put his life and now his liberty in between the now-deceased and the 9NEWS employee. This was not a political assignment for Matt. This was simply Matt protecting your employee."

“It's easy to claim self-defense, obviously, if you're just defending yourself in a fistfight or something,” said former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey. “It's much harder to claim it when you kill somebody.”

Morrissey spent more than three decades in the prosecutor's office and served 12 years as Denver's District Attorney. He said that to claim self-defense when deadly force is used, the defendant must have been confronted by deadly force.

“You have to reasonably believe that someone's going to get killed or somebody is going to suffer serious bodily injury,” said Morrissey. “And, that's why I say when you just get slapped or even common bear mace, probably not going to kill you. Probably not going to cause serious bodily injury.”

Denver Police said two guns were recovered from the scene where Keltner was killed. They said one belonged to Dolloff. Neither police nor prosecutors have said who had the second gun.

RELATED: Photographers at rallies say images of shooter, victim before shooting provide new context

Morrissey said if a second gun was involved, it could change the case.

“The individual that is using self-defense would have to know about the gun, would have to have seen the gun,” said Morrissey.

Morrissey said another Colorado law could be a factor – what he says is known as 'heat of passion.’

“And that's where…there was a highly provoking act that causes you to kill someone,"  said Morrissey. "That's an even lesser offense than second degree murder. So is being slapped a highly provoking act? Is having Mace pointed at you after being slapped a highly provoking act? These are questions that a jury has to decide.” 

The first step in that process is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning at the Lindsey-Flanagan Courthouse at 8:30 a.m. Dolloff at last check has not posted bail and remains behind bars.

RELATED: What are the security guard training requirements in Denver?

RELATED: Investigation: 9NEWS has used multiple unlicensed security guards

9NEWS management released the following statement about the incident:

“9NEWS continues to cooperate fully with law enforcement and is deeply saddened by this loss of life.

“For the past few months, it has been the practice of 9NEWS to contract private security, through an outside firm, to accompany our personnel covering protests. Pinkerton, the private security firm, is responsible for ensuring its guards or those it contracts with are appropriately licensed. 9NEWS does not contract directly with individual security personnel.”

An additional statement from 9NEWS management was released Tuesday:

"As stated [Monday], 9NEWS does not contract directly with individual security personnel. 9NEWS contracted with Pinkerton and had directed that security guards accompanying our personnel not be armed. None of 9NEWS’ crew

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