Abrams: Texas jury OKs shooting burglars in the back?
Last year, a Houston-area man shot and killed two burglars he saw breaking into his neighbor's house, even after a 911 dispatcher warned him repeatedly against going outside with his shotgun.
Texas had recently passed a law allowing people to use deadly force to protect their own property, as Joe Horn was well aware, but it was unclear at the time whether the law would apply to protecting someone else's property. However, this Monday, a grand jury cleared Horn of any criminal liability.
MSNBC's Dan Abrams discussed the case with two Houston defense attorneys, Brian Wice and Nicole De Borde. "Texas law allows you to shoot an intruder in certain circumstances," Abrams began, "but in the back? While 911's telling you not to do it?"
De Borde was supportive of Horn, explaining that "in Texas, the law gives you the right to shoot a person, even when they're fleeing from a property crime, and to kill them. And deadly force was what the grand jury determined in this case was appropriate."
Wice, however, was far less content with the verdict. "At the end of the day, everybody knows that Joe Horn walked out of his house for one reason and one reason only -- and that was to make residential burglary a death penalty offense," he stated angrily. "And we all know that if he had listened to that dispatcher from central casting and stayed in his house, those two hood rats would be doing long stretches in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. ... What about next time, Dan, when he kills a kid getting off the school bus?"
"The man had a right to be in his yard," asserted De Borde.
"We all know the penal code says you can't provoke a difficulty," Wice retorted. "You can't use self-defense as a hunting license to be some lower-case wannabee Charles Bronson."
"He was in his yard when these two habitual criminals came onto his property and threatened him and Joe Horn felt he had no choice," De Borde insisted again. In response, Abrams played more of the 911 tape, showing that Horn had been safely indoors until he took his gun outside with the intention of shooting the two men.
"Whether or not his conduct was reasonable," concluded Wice, "and whether or not he provoked the difficulty, are classic questions of fact that should have been heard by a trial jury in the crucible of cross-examination and not by a grand jury behind closed doors."
This video is from MSNBC's Verdict, broadcast June 30, 2008.