In the Comments section under Part Two of “Reflections on Heller” in this blog, reader azasu writes, “Hey Mas, I was wondering if you were going to do a post or article on the whole Joe Horn thing in Texas. I’d be interested to hear your take.”
Joe Horn of Pasadena, Texas made national news twice. The first time was last year, when he shot and killed two illegal immigrants who were burgling his next-door neighbor’s house. The second was this past week, when he was no-billed by the Grand Jury. Since it was publicized as two unarmed, fleeing men being shot in the back, most of the public expected him to be indicted for Murder or at least Manslaughter. Some were shocked by the Grand Jury’s decision, and some pleasantly surprised. Since both of the deceased had long and ugly criminal records, there was not a great deal of sympathy for them in some quarters.
There are a lot of subtleties that haven’t made it into the mainstream media yet, azasu. Many have heard his 9-1-1 calls, in which the dispatcher advised him to stay inside and he excitedly replied that no, he was going to go outside with his shotgun. The tape picks up Horn saying “Move and you’re dead,” and then three shotgun blasts.
What many do not realize is that one of the burglars was armed with a crowbar, and that they had faced him at fairly close range and were moving toward him – on his property by now, not just the neighbor’s, Horn said – when he opened fire. News reports say both men were shot in the back, but I’ve seen several cases where the suspect broke off his attack in the instant he realized he was going to be fired upon, and his turn came faster than the shooter could react to the change in the threat level. The average adult male can make a quarter turn in a quarter second, and a 180-degree body turn in half a second. Reaction time to an unanticipated stimulus takes longer than that, which means that the initial aggressor is likely to be shot before the defender can react to the turn and halt a trigger finger that is already in action.
Horn was in his sixties, and the two men he shot were much younger and stronger. That constitutes disparity of force. The crowbar one allegedly held constitutes a deadly weapon under these circumstances. Lunging at Horn as if to disarm him, under these circumstances, can also constitute lethal force, and Horn’s unleashing his 12-gauge Magnum could thus be justified three times over by a good defense attorney. In his videotaped walk-through at the shooting scene, recently released by the police department, Horn told the lead investigator, “I thought they were gonna get me…if they got the gun away from me, I knew what they were gonna do.” Moreover, Texas law is the most forgiving in the nation of private citizens who use deadly force in protection of property as well as life. Grand Jury proceedings tend to be super-secret, and we do not know to what degree a backlash against crime (and illegal aliens) may have influenced the Grand Jury’s decision not to render the true bill that would have set the stage for prosecution.
In a great many jurisdictions – including some in Texas – a citizen who went out and shot these guys would be under indictment for Murder or Manslaughter by now. Joe Horn’s willingness to risk his life for his neighbor’s goods is commendable, but not necessarily a role model for the rest of us. He is out substantial legal fees already, and he has received death threats. While many see him as a hero, I doubt that he feels like one. His attorney has stated that if Mr. Horn had it to do over again, he would stay inside and leave his Winchester Defender Model 1300 shotgun silent. I suspect the rest of us can learn from that.
As more information becomes available, azasu, I might be doing a full-length article on this in my continuing feature, “Self Defense and the Law,” in Combat Handguns magazine. If you’re interested in a full-length treatment in my Backwoods Home column, let editor Dave Duffy know. He is very responsive to article suggestions from readers.
Best wishes to all for a safe and meaningful Independence Day.