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Fastidious Homeowner Acquitted of Murdering Raucous Neighbor

ANNE GEARANFebruary 8, 1996

LEESBURG, Va. (AP) _ A fastidious homeowner who shot a drunken neighbor in a dispute over teen-age skateboarders ripping up his flower beds was acquitted of murder Thursday after claiming self-defense.

Robert Lorenz, 54, had said he shot Duren Wayne Eldridge on April 9 when the 31-year-old Eldridge came to his door and began threatening him.

The shooting was the culmination of months of tension between the quiet Lorenz, who works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the raucous family renting the house across the street in suburban Washington.

On the day the Eldridges moved in, their dogs relieved themselves on Lorenz’ yard. Later, a car parked in Eldridge’s driveway rolled backward into a Lorenz vehicle.

The teen-agers who congregated at the Eldridge household were a constant irritation to Lorenz, flipping their skateboards over his curb and damaging bushes and flowers, neighbors said.

The day of the shooting, Eldridge confronted Lorenz on the older man’s porch, angry at Lorenz for calling police to report that a teen-ager visiting Eldridge’s household had damaged Lorenz’s prized flower garden.

Lorenz testified he was scared by Eldridge’s drunken threats and fired a pistol only after Eldridge, who wasn’t armed, moved to come into the house. Eldridge’s blood alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the limit for drivers.

Neighbors on Loundsbury Court generally sided with the Eldridge family. Several testified they don’t believe Eldridge planned to hurt Lorenz, who was known as meticulous and straight-laced.

Betty Comerford, who lived next door to the Eldridges, called Lorenz’s acquittal unfair. ``He fired a weapon. He deserves to pay something for that,″ she said.

Lorenz, who had faced up to life in prison if convicted of murder, cried and hugged his family after the verdict. The jury could have convicted Lorenz of a lesser charge.

Eldridge’s widow, Peggy, left the courtroom without comment. Last month, she moved out of the neighborhood.

Lorenz will return to his job at FEMA and has no plans to move, said his lawyer, Mark Shaffer. Shaffer said the Eldridge family has filed a $3.7 million lawsuit against Lorenz.

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