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Justifiable Homicide Or Murder ?

by @ 7:07 am on November 20, 2007. Filed under In The News, Legal

A case out of Pasadena Texas raises some interesting questions about when it is justifiable for a private citizen to use deadly force:

(CBS) The 911 call came from a Pasadena, Tex., resident, who alerted police to two burglary suspects on a neighbor’s property. Before he hung up, two men were dead by his hand.

Joe Horn, 61, told the dispatcher what he intended to do: Walk out his front door with a shotgun.

“I’ve got a shotgun,” Horn said, according to a tape of the 911 call. “Do you want me to stop them?”

“Nope, don’t do that – ain’t no property worth shooting somebody over, OK?” the dispatcher responded.

After several minutes on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, during which Horn became more and more agitated, things get more serious:

On the tape of the 911 call, the shotgun can be heard being cocked and Horn can be heard going outside and confronting someone.

“Boom! You’re dead!” he shouts. A loud bang is heard, then a shotgun being cocked and fired again, and then again.

Then Horn is back on the phone:

“Get the law over here quick. I’ve now, get, one of them’s in the front yard over there, he’s down, he almost run down the street. I had no choice. They came in the front yard with me, man, I had no choice! … Get somebody over here quick, man.”

Dispatcher: “Mister Horn, are you out there right now?”

Horn: “No, I am inside the house, I went back in the house. Man, they come right in my yard, I didn’t know what the — they was gonna do, I shot ‘em, OK?”

Dispatcher: “Did you shoot somebody?

Horn: “Yes, I did, the cops are here right now.”

Dispatcher: “Where are you right now?”

Horn: “I’m inside the house. …”

Dispatcher: “Mister Horn, put that gun down before you shoot an officer of mine. I’ve got several officers out there without uniforms on.”

Horn: “I am in the front yard right now. I am …”

Dispatcher: “Put that gun down! There’s officers out there without uniforms on. Do not shoot anybody else, do you understand me? I’ve got police out there…”

Horn: “I understand, I understand. I am out in the front yard waving my hand right now.”

Dispatcher: “You don’t have a gun with you, do you?

Horn: “No, no, no.”

Dispatcher: “You see a uniformed officer? Now lay down on the ground and don’t do nothing else.”

Yelling is heard.

Dispatcher: “Lay down on the ground, Mister Horn. Do what the officers tell you to do right now.”

Here’s the problem. There’s no evidence that at the time Horn shot both men there was an threat either to him or his property, or that he could reasonably have said to be in danger of losing his life. What was happening was two men who had broken into a neighbors house were getting away and the police weren’t showing up.

So, what it reasonable and justifiable for Horn to shoot to death two bunglers who had stolen stuff from his neighbors property ?

Apparently, under Texas law at least, the answer is murky:

Under Texas law, people may use deadly force to protect their own property or to stop arson, burglary, robbery, theft or criminal mischief at night.

But the legislator who authored the “castle doctrine” bill told the Chronicle it was never intended to apply to a neighbor’s property, to prompt a “‘Law West of the Pecos’ mentality or action,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth. “You’re supposed to be able to defend your own home, your own family, in your house, your place of business or your motor vehicle.”

Based on that, it appears that what Horn comes closer to murder than justifiable homicide.

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5 Responses to “Justifiable Homicide Or Murder ?”

  1. Libertarian says:

    I’m always skeptical when I read in the paper that the police showed up at a crime or accident scene in “two minutes” or some similarly short time. Here is evidence that it took SEVEN minutes for the cops to show up after a 911 call! I’ll be even more skeptical now.

  2. Jai says:

    I think that as citizens we have less rights than the criminals that are robbing and killing. Kudos to this guy for taking two of these bums off of our city’s streets! Its not white or a black thing….ITS A RIGHT THING!!

  3. David Bennett says:

    Vigilante justice is not justice, retard. The reason our country is so successful stems from the rule of law.

  4. Gdubhelix says:

    I am a armed robbery victim. Well, at least the attempt of one. Two men aaproached on Deep Ellum in Dallas at about 2am. As I unarmed my car alarm, they approached me and one of them put a gun to my face demanding my car keys and money. The gun used was a .38 cal revolver and I could see the gun was not loaded. I immediately grabbed the gun, knocked one out and pistol whipped the other. When the guy who originally pointed the gun at me came to, I kicked him in the face and stomped his chest breaking four ribs and puncturing both of his lungs. He layed there gasping for breath as his friend lied in a pool of his own blood unconcious both on their way to spending two weeks in the hospital recovering.

    The only eye witness to the incident came out of the club as it was happening and only saw me beating the two perps and since they could not give statements, charges of Aggrivated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Assault causing bodily harm and possesion of an illegal firearm were brought against me. I eventually beat the case but a civil suit was also brought against me by their families, suing me for almost 500k to cover hospital bills which was also thrown out of court.

    You know, I am the victim but I not only faced charges but also a civil lawsuit. Where’s the justice in that? Why would they even have the chance to try and sue me for damages? None of this was my fault. I didn’t bring this on myself. They brought it.

    If I were in this man’s position I would have done the same simply because I will never be at the mercy of another criminal again. Whether it be my neighbors or my own home I will shoot to kill. Criminals get away with so damn much on repeated occasions.

  5. Dan says:

    To me, it boils down a bit differently. There is a portion of the 911 dispatch tape, not quoted here, where the dispatcher is encouraging Mr. Horn to give details of the suspects and their location / actions. This is normally done, I’m guessing since they want all the information possible. Mr. Horn, being a good citizen with an obstructed view, asks the 911 operator a couple of times if “I should go out on my porch to get a better look”. Now, all of the above was from another news article I read on the Web. I’d guess that the dispatcher simply lost control of Mr. Horn’s actions because Mr. Horn is and was a good neighbor and concerned citizen. We see Mr. Horn’s statement that “they came into right into my yard”. Ok, maybe they did. Given that assumption can be proven or is even stated by the only surviving party, what would you do with two apparent burglars that approach a man with such an obvious weapon as a shotgun? Assume they’re selling Girl Scout cookies for their daughters? No, I respectfully submit they were probably better off shot by Mr. Horn since that action alone would put a reasonable person in fear by suspicion that they too are armed. Now they won’t have to endure trial, prison and possible execution for the murder of Joe Horn.

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