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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