You may have heard, you may not have. A Texas grand jury has decided to “no-bill” Joe Horn (no, not that Joe Horn). Prosecutors sought to indict Horn after Horn killed two men who were fleeing after committing a burglary.
Except it was not his own house. Wouldn’t you know it, such a thing is permitted in Texas. The relevant statutes are here. I’ll pare it down for you:
A person can use deadly force (as in this case) if he believes it is immediately necessary to terminate the trespass/burglary/robbery AND the property being taken cannot be recovered by any other means AND he has a reasonable belief that the third person asked him to protect the property. Actually, upon further reading of the statute, it seems that this last one is not a requirement. So, in Texas, you can kill someone you believe is robbing your neighbor without having the neighbor’s permission to protect his house. Don’t we all feel like men now?
Let’s take the “immediately necessary” portion of the statute. Here’s why this was not immediately necessary: He was on the phone with police who were on their way to the scene.
“I’ve got a shotgun; you want me to stop him?” Horn asked the dispatcher.
“Nope. Don’t do that,” the dispatcher replied. “Ain’t no property worth shooting somebody over, OK?”
Horn was clearly upset by the dispatcher’s response.
“I’m not gonna let them get away with it,” he said. “I can’t take a chance getting killed over this, OK.”
Despite the dispatcher’s protects, Horn said “I’m gonna shoot! I’m gonna shoot!”
The 911 dispatcher warned Horn to stay inside at least a dozen separate times, telling him, “An officer is coming out there. I don’t want you to go outside that house.”
He did not heed that request. He went outside and shot the two men in the back – firing three shots. Police arrived seconds later.
They weren’t on his property, they weren’t coming to his property. He was in no imminent danger.
Let’s look at the other element of the statute, that he reasonably believe that the neighbors asked him to watch over their property. The statute reads “has requested”, not “would have requested”.
“I really don’t know these neighbors,” Horn said. “I know the neighbors on the other side really well … I can assure you if it had been their house, I’d already have done something.”
Sure, today the neighbors may be glad (or perhaps not), but the question is did they give him permission at the time? Seems not to be so.
Then there’s the unfortunate matter of race. Both victims were illegal aliens of the hispanic persuasion. Horn is white. Harris County is predominantly white. I wonder what the makeup of the grand jury was?
[As an aside - where are you, victims' advocates? Every news story is parading the fact that one of the victims here was a criminal. So if they're criminals their lives aren't worth the same as others'? That's what really, really annoys me about this...]
Others may disagree – and it may seem incongruous coming from a defense attorney – but I don’t care. I don’t like the castle doctrine and I’m even more leery of using deadly force to protect property. I’ve always had trouble with this legal quirk and I always will.
As the police dispatcher said, no property is worth taking someone’s life and certainly not in cold-blood like Horn did.
I wrote and rewrote this last sentence several times as I tried to sympathize with Mr. Horn, just as I do with a majority of my clients. Don’t get me wrong, I would defend him to the best of my ability, but I’m not going to like him or feel bad for him.
Perhaps I’m just blinded by my hatred for this doctrine, but I can’t find it within myself to see his point of view. Maybe some other day, but right now I can’t. If that makes me a bad person or bad lawyer, so be it. What a slap in the face to the justice system and our notions of due process.