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Getting away with murder in Texas

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On November 14, 2007, Joseph Horn called 911 and told the dispatcher he intended to go outside his home and kill two people. Before police could arrive, and despite the dispatcher imploring him to stay inside, he carried out his plan. He killed Hernando Riascos Torres and Diego Ortiz with shotgun blasts to the back.

Horn and his lawyer, Charles Lambright, have tried to mitigate Horn's actions with several other relevant facts. Torres and Ortiz were burglarizing Horn's neighbor's house when the call to authorities was placed. And after Horn went outside, they allegedly entered Horn's front yard. On the basis of these facts, two grand juries declined to indict him.

Not self-defense

The fact that Torres and Ortiz were on Horn's property when they were shot cannot alone justify a self-defense shooting. They would have to be there as part of a situation in which a reasonable person would feel his life was in immediate jeopardy. The fact that they were shot in the back seems to indicate that Horn's life was not in immediate jeopardy, at least to me (and I would like to think I am a reasonable person).

Even more damning is the indisputable fact that Horn went looking for trouble. He stated clearly that his intention was to kill the burglars. He also stated — many, many times — that the reason he was intervening was because he was "not gonna let 'em get away with it."

At one point before he went outside, Horn told the dispatcher he wanted to defend his own life. The problem with relying on this statement as evidence of a self-defense motive is that Horn put his life into far more danger by going outside.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Lambright had the audacity to say, "Just because he went outside doesn't mean he went outside with the idea of shooting them." This despite Horn's announcement to the 911 dispatcher, "I'm gonna kill 'em," and despite his hollering, "You're dead!" immediately before he fired the shotgun.

Defense of property

According to his own statements during the phone call, Horn's motivation was not defense of human life, but of property. (Someone else's property, no less.) The 911 dispatcher summed the ethics of this case up neatly while trying to dissuade Horn from his plan: "Property's not worth killing someone over."

I am flabbergasted that not just one, but two grand juries were able to overlook Horn's blatant crime. If Texas law allows these actions, then Texas lawmakers have a grave duty to correct those laws.

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