Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Castle Doctrine

Yesterday a grand jury's controversial decision not to indict Joe Horn sparked a lot of heated debate in the Houston area.

This case all began last November when Mr. Horn, a Pasadena resident, spotted two men breaking into his neighbor's home. He immediately got on the phone to 911. A short time later, when the police still had not arrived, Mr. Horn told the 911 operator that the men were now outside the home and getting away. The operator instructed Mr. Horn to remain in his house. Mr. Horn did not. Instead he went outside with his shotgun, shouted, "You're dead!" and shot them, killing them both.

That's the story in a nutshell. There are actual 911 tapes you can listen to, videos you can watch, and related stories you can read if you want all the details. There are conflicting reports as to whether or not the two men were running away and were shot in the back.

I distinctly remember my reactions when this story broke. My first reaction was one of horror that a citizen of our community had taken it upon himself to be a vigilante and kill two seemingly-not-so-innocent men. My second reaction was, "Good! Now they won't be robbing my house!" Isn't that just awful? I'm being honest here. Two almost diametrically opposed views, one right after the other.

Portions of the Houston community were outraged, and demonstrations led by activist Quanell X were all over the news. There was no question but that this matter would go before a grand jury.

The only question mark in my mind was whether or not Joe Horn would remain in one piece long enough to appear before a grand jury! I was positive that he would be indicted.

Shortly after the Pasadena incident, Gary Southworth, who lives north of Houston, shot and killed an intruder on one of his business properties. It seems that Gary had been having some problems with thieves coming onto his property and stealing whatever they were after and could carry out, so Gary had taken to sleeping on the property.

Well, this one night Gary heard a noise. He got up and looked out to see what it was. He could see someone fiddling around with one of the cars. He called out to the intruder, who didn't answer but instead came at Gary with what looked like a tire iron. Gary discharged his weapon.

When this story hit the news, I called the Southworth home. I knew Gary. I bought one of my cars from him. Roberta, his wife, answered. I identified myself, told her I'd just heard and how shocked I was, asked how Gary was doing and did he want to talk to me?

Roberta said she didn't think he wanted to talk, that he was really upset over the whole incident, and was just laying around in bed. Anyway, while she and I were talking, Gary asked who was on the phone. She told him who it was, and asked him if he wanted to talk to me. We spent the next 45 minutes or so talking. Mainly it was me listening and him doing the talking.

We discussed his probable appearance before a grand jury. He thought he would be called to appear, even tho the sheriff had assured him that it was clearly a case of self-defense. In addition, he was on his own property. [Upshot ... Gary was called and the grand jury refused to indict, as had been anticipated.]

There is an extensive article in Wikipedia on the Castle Doctrine. This doctrine, which allows the use of deadly force in certain instances, varies from state to state, and not all states in the US have a Castle Doctrine. Texas is one that does.

To me, there is a huge difference in the two shootings. I did not sit on the grand jury and therefore am not privy to the evidence presented, but I simply cannot imagine how it happened that an indictment was not handed down in Joe Horn's case.

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