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Stop or I'll (A) Shoot, (B) Tell on you, (C) Say "Stop" again, (D) None of the above

Unless you're living under a rock, you have probably heard by now that a Grand Jury in Harris County, Texas, decided yesterday not to indict Joe Horn, the Houston-area man who was facing possible murder charges for shooting two house burglars last November.

Texas has a castle law, that allows you to treat your home as a castle and protect it as such if someone is threatening your home and its contents, which theoretically include both the people your home might "contain" and the stuff it contains. So someone breaks in, you don't have to flee and hide till cops arrive. You can fight back with deadly force. We have a law like that in Florida too.

Anyway, here's the twist: The house that was being burglarized was not Horn's. It was his next door neighbor's.

As the story's been reported over and over and what you can hear on the 911 tape is that:

  • Horn realized a burglary was taking place and saw the men as they were fleeing the house
  • Horn called 911 and told a dispatcher he wasn't gonna let them get away unchecked
  • Horn warned the dispatcher that if cops didn't show up tout (de) suite he was gonna go outside and confront the burglars
  • Horn warned the dispatcher again that he wasn't kidding and would blast the burglars if he had to
  • Horn went outside and warned the burglars he'd shoot 'em if they moved
  • They moved and Horn blew them both into the next life.

Immediately and unfortunately people in the Houston area drew lines in the sand along racial and political lines.

Joe Horn is white. The two former burglars were brown. Joe Horn is an American citizen. The two late burglars were illegal immigrants from Colombia.

Horn's supporters argued that he had every right to protect his neighbor's home and property as he would his own. They argued the "castle doctrine" applies to one's immediate community, not just one's own house and property. A police officer, who said he witnessed part of the incident, said that while one of the burglars may have been shot in the back, at least one appeared to be moving toward Horn when he fired. Also, one of the burglars was reportedly armed with a crow bar.

Horn's critics argued that he could've fired a warning shot in the air and gotten the crooks to stop, or that he could've shot 'em in the legs or some place else that might not kill 'em, or that he shouldn't have fired at all 'cause no amount of property equals the value of a human life. They point out that his intention all along was to kill, since on the 911 tape when the dispatcher warns Horn that he'd better not go outside 'cause he's gonna get himself shot, Horn snaps back "You want to make a bet? I'm going to kill them."

I gotta tell you this wasn't a tough one for me, not for more than a few minutes anyway. While I generally cringe at the thought of vigilantism, unless its being committed by Batman (not the frilly 1990s Batman but the one from the 1930s comic books with a chip on his shoulder), I'm not gonna lose any sleep over Joe Horn not being indicted.

Yeah, Horn could have handled this incident better. He could've called 911 and stayed inside his, his house. But he didn't.

And though it's not the PC thing to say, this is the ultimate negative domino effect, meaning none of this might have happened if the burglars had been in a different line of work.

I'm not saying that being a burglar means you deserve a bullet. I admit, in theory your life is worth more than my DVD player. I'm just saying that if they hadn't decided to break into that house they probably would have never met Joe Horn, and he never would have shot them. I kind of doubt if they had crossed paths with Horn in the grocery store or the mall he would have run home, gotten his gun, and returned to shoot them.

When I was in high school in Southeast Virginia, there was an incident in a nearby rural community. Race was not a factor (just as it shouldn't have been in this Horn case), as the young men and the cops were all white. But a group of teenagers stole a car and went for a joy ride along winding country roads. Cops gave chase. The teens' stolen car crashed, and they were killed. Immediately there was a public outcry, because the cop had apparently violated his own department's pursuit policies, which were basically to back off after so many miles, so as not to push the bad guys into driving faster and crazier and putting other, innocent drivers in danger. Even the boys' parents blamed the cop for their sons' deaths.

You could look at it that way, I guess. Again, the cop could have done things differently. He could have followed department rules to a tee and let the stolen car get away.

But - call me crazy - I keep going back to that domino effect. I sort of figured if the car had never been stolen and the kids had never taken it, initiating a domino effect, they might never have crossed paths with the chase-happy cop. One more time, no theft, no chase, no crash. Or am I missing something?

?????

So yeah, what happened in Texas was sad and unfortunate. But how much do you want to bet the rate of home invasions and burglaries in Joe Horn's neighborhood will plummet now?

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Ruth

Joe Horn is a hero. One must wonder the future murders, rapes, and other crimes that were prevented by popping caps on those two thugs; additionally, his quick and brave actions probably paid back the two criminals for unmentionable crimes that they probably had never paid for. Good shooting Joe!

Ruth

Joe Horn is a hero. One must wonder the future murders, rapes, and other crimes that were prevented by popping caps on those two thugs; additionally, his quick and brave actions probably paid back the two criminals for unmentionable crimes that they probably had never paid for. Good shooting Joe!

James B.

Ruth, I get why you're calling Horn a hero. I don't know if I'd go that far, 'cause we don't know. These guys may have never upped the ante from burglaries to anything more violent. But then again they might have. Still, while I ain't giving out any medals in this blog post, I'm not losing sleep about Horn not going to jail, and I understand the sentiment behind why some people want to throw him a parade.

Jeni Hill Ertmer

James, I agree fully with your concept here -if you stay out of harm's way, don't indulge in criminal activities, at any rate, the odds are more in favor of your not getting into any kind of hot water -or in this case, the cold, cold earth. A hero though? I wouldn't quite go that far to describe Joe Horn but maybe just a fed up citizen. Who knows?
By the way -I watched the video of you and you cut quite a dashing figure! And your voice, pretty much the way I expected you to sound -very unassuming, quiet, laid back. Very good interview! You have my permission to keep calling yourself "Pretty" too!

James B.

Jeni, you're gonna make me act bashful! Thank you.

SWF42

No, I'm not bothered either.

If a guy holding a gun yells, "Stop or I'll shoot!" the smart thing to do is stop, so he won't shoot. Even if you're stupid enough to make your life's work breaking into other people's houses, this should be something that's pretty obvious. You stop, get your wrist slapped by an crowded court system, then go back to robbing other people's houses.

I won't go so far as to call the shooter a 'hero,' but I'm not condemning what he did, either.

WNG

"I admit, in theory your life is worth more than my DVD player."

In THEORY??? James, seriously? I realize that we are on different ends of the political spectrum here but really? A human life is worth a HELL of a lot more than a DVD player. He should have stayed in his house and not murdered anyone precisely because all human life is worth more than property.

Also, there isn't anyone who could convince me that if you reversed the races here the man wouldn't have been at LEAST charged. Of course those idiots shouldn't have been breaking into a house, but that doesn't make what he did right - it only compounds wrong on top of wrong.

James B.

SWF42, we're pretty much on the same page.

WNG, I'm sorry I offended you. In theory was an apparently weak attempt on my part to lighten the tension between the two sides on this issue.

In the bigger picture though, if you look at the whole post in contex, you know my basic point was: Horn may not have been exactly right, but I'm gonna stop short of condemning him, because the domino effect that led to all of this started with those two guys making a decision to go there and do wrong. I also wrote that burglary doesn't warrant a bullet. But I still believe this comes down to the fact that Horn and those two guys would have never met if they hadn't gone there. That being said, I admit I'm stunned that the Grand Jury, however sympathetic to Horn, was able to get around his declaration on the 911 tape that "...I'm going to kill 'em!" That sort of flies in the face of his defense that he shot as a last resort. It sounds like he'd made up his mind what to do before he left the house.

But let's set Horn aside for a minute. I apply the same theory to the young men back home who stole the car and wrecked it while fleeing from cops, and were killed in the process. Police Dept. rules said that the cop should have backed off and discontinued his chase after a couple of miles. He continued. The boys wrecked and died. Did that cop commit murder? Nope.

Big Man

I wish the jury in the John White manslaughter case in New York would have applied your negative domino effect.

Unfortunately, John White is black and he shot a white teenager who was trespassing on his property and threatening his son. Did I mentiont he white kid had a bunch of buddies who were also yelling racial epithets?

Not only did John White get indicited, he got convicted of manslaughter. Seems like there are different rules for different folks, and I don't think it's just because Texas has a castle law.

I discuss it on my blog.

James B.

Big Man, welcome. And let me tell you, you are preaching to the choir. The same way I feel about this case with Joe Horn, I felt about John White. I'm very familiar with that case, and it has virtually parallel circumstances as the Houston case. Sometimes it's all about media coverage and public perception. And unfortunately John White was projected with a different perception than was Joe Horn.

And yet, I still don't think either man did the absolutely right or ideal thing. But I do think under the circumstances I wouldn't fault either if they got no jail time, 'cause in the heat of the moment, when you feel "righteously" that you're protecting something you do....things!

James B.

Big Man, let me clarify. When I say the cases had virtually parallel circumstances, I'm not suggesting the teens in New York were robbing or intended to rob White's house. I'm just saying it involved what White believed were menacing people encroaching on his personal space.

minijonb

i have to disagree with you on this one.

the 2nd ammendment does let us "keep and bear arms" - it does not give anyone deputy rights in Harris County or any other county to act as a informal officer of the law.

here's another example. on the news a few weeks ago, i saw security camera footage at a gas station of a man killing another man with a gun in "self-defense" - this is bullshit. self defense would be getting back in your truck and locking the doors and windows. he was not procecuted by the local DA and think that was wrong.

i don't like living in a vigilante world with people who think they can use a gun whenever they feel like and use the legal system to protect themselves later.

i'm not surprised this guy in Texas got off, but i think it is sad and wrong.

WNG

White was being actively threatened by a mob, the police were trying to persue criminals, Horn left his house to chase people down and kill them. I see a big difference here. Maybe it is a perspective thing, but listening to that tape there is no doubt in my mind that what happened there was murder.
Personally, I don't think that White should have shot at those kids and I think that the police should probably have backed off (although high speed chases in general are pretty complicated and I don't have all the particulars on the one you brought up).
This was simple, they were not attacking him, they were not even coming towards his house, they were cutting across his property to get away and he shot them three times. He went out his door with the intent to kill them after the dispatcher asked him 13 times not to. That's not defense, that's murder.
You may not be able to condemn him for it JB, but I can.

James B.

WNG, not trying to butter you up, but you shoulda been a prosecutor. You're making a great case for me to second guess myself on this one. I just might by the time all is said and done. I might not...But I just might;-)

I did point out in the post that Horn said on the 911 tape that he was going to kill them.

Still, you have give me one concession too: that none of this would have happened if the victims hadn't left home that night to commit a crime. Same goes for the car thieves and the guys who menaced John White's family. To me that much is a given, independent of the wrong Horn, the cop, and White might have done.

wavemancali

Joe Horn is a murderer.

He had no reason to fear for his life. It was not his castle. If you support Joe's right to kill the 2 men in question you support the death penalty for grand larceny.

Ruth, tomorrow will you beat the crap out me for jaywalking?

Do you speed? That makes me angry since you are recklessly putting lives in danger with your dangerous driving, I think you shall be flogged for your infractions. Oh wait, that's not what the rest of society made the penalty for speeding, you just have to pay $90, my bad.

Things can be replaced, life cannot.

James B.

Wavemancali, preach! I know this is serious. But you guys can rarely make me change my mind.

I think I might have on this one though. I went back and listened to the 911 recording again...and again. And I can't get around Horn telling the 911 dispatcher that he is going to kill the burglars. Not that he's going to shoot them or hold them at gunpoint, but that he's going to kill them.

So Wavemancali, I think I kind of agree with you.

Still, I'm not backing down from my assertion that this could have all been avoided if the victims hadn't gone there in the first place.

That assertion doesn't justify them being shot to death. I think the two issues are related but separate. Again, same goes for the kids back home fleeing the cops and the kids who stormed John White's house in NY.

WNG

All of my three sisters are lawyers, JB. Me? Not so much. But if you want to keep the compliments coming you know I have no problem with that! And I don't so much want to change your mind as I enjoy your mind :-)

As to your point of course it wouldn't have happened if they hadn't gone out to commit that crime. It also wouldn't have happened if Horn didn't have a gun in his home. It also wouldn't have happened if Horn hadn't walked out of his front door and shot them.

We could do this all day: If we had better border control, if Columbia was a more peacful or properous place, if the castle law hadn't been passed, if they had been caught for an earlier misdemeanor and deported, if they had found some type of other work, if, if, if, if. Liberal ifs, Conservative ifs, the full spectrum of ifs.

None of those ifs forced Horn to pick up that gun, leave his home and shoot those two men multiple times. It was not his job, it was not his duty and no matter what the castle law says, it was not his right to take their lives.

OG

James, I do get what you are saying and even talked about being torn over the fact that these guys did kinda put themselves in this situation to be open to the enemy, so to speak, however it doesn't make it right by no means. TWO WRONGS NEVER MAKE A RIGHT! And when one of those wrongs is loss of life as opposed to property, that is a travesty.

Secondly, it has been proven time and time again that the value of black and brown lives seems to be less significant than white lives in the American Criminal Justice System.

Read these statistics on the application of the Death Penalty from this white paper published on the Justice Works website http://www.justiceworks.info/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=41&MMN_position=54:4

Death Penalty Statistics
Black defendant + white victim = 70% death penalty
White defendant + white victim = 32% death penalty
White defendant + black victim = 19% death penalty
Black defendant + black victim = 15% death penalty

That is why you should lose sleep, because I'm from H and was raised very near Pasadena (Baytown to be exact) where the incident took place. You better believe it's more than just the castle law being upheld and race had a LOT to do with it. I KNOW very personally how racist that town is. On paper this offense is not racist, but trust, had that been two teenage white men having summer folly no gun would have been bought out and certainly not aim to killed over A NEIGHBOR'S (not even his own stuff) property, that is replaceable and probably insured.

Have you listened to the 911 tapes? Listen to them, if you haven’t. Then tell me it was about protecting somebody else’s stuff. This was his free pass to kill a darkie, in my opinion. But in all fairness, I know I am biased in my beliefs of Mr. Horn’s intentions, having grown up in Baytown and near cities like Pasadena, Jasper, and Vidor. Many citizens of those cities do not hide their obvious disdain towards blacks.

-OG

OG

I see you have listened to the tapes several times while I've been my comment and working.

-OG

wavemancali

James, don't get me wrong. I don't feel a whole lot of remorse for the thieves. I don't like thieves and I do believe that if you partake in a life of crime like they were, you run the risk of running into the Joe Horns of the world.

My issue is the Joe Horns of the world taking the law into their own hands. Vigilante justice benefits no-one. What if the 2 brown men in question had been the neighbor's in-laws that Joe didn't know? Or contractors that had been given a key? They come out of the house and they're confronted by a psycho with a gun saying stop or I'll shoot.

What would you do in a situation like that? Personally I might run. I know hitting a moving target with a gun isn't an easy task. I don't know who this psycho is and I may think I have a better shot at running rather than to stay still and be shot anyway.

BobG

As far as I'm concerned, it was an assisted suicide. Anyone committing burglary should accept the fact that they are taking a chance with their lives. Personally, I don't hold all life sacred; some people are nothing but misery to others around them. If they do something stupid to get themselves killed, that's their fault.

Sharon

Some of us hadn't heard about this cos we live not under rocks but in other countries - you have worldwide readership!

Either way, the immediate example that leapt to my mind was of a Norfolk (UK) farmer who, getting totally fed up of a local yob breaking into his far, shot him.

The farmer was judged guilty of manslaughter at least & sent down.

Unfortunately this side of the Pond the idea that 'an Englishman's home is his castle' is only recognised under law if he doesn't try to defend it too hard.

As was further emphasised when another chap, coming upon a burglar in his home, made a Citizen's Arrest then tied him to a chair until the Police turned up. He got into trouble for it too, the home owner.

I think killing someone for burglary is excessive, however stopping them, non-lethally, isn't.

Charlene

What about innocent until proven guilty? Due process? How do you know they were burglars? What if they were buying the goods and running to catch a bus? Unlikely, sure, but not impossibile.

And, to play the bleeding heart card, what if they were stealing because they needed money to feed their starving childrem? Again, not likely, but not impossible.

In an ideal world there would be no thievery and no joyriding. But, this is not an ideal world.

To say vigilantism is bad, but ... sounds like you're condoning the results.

Do you really want to live in a society that judges actions so severely? I believe that people should accept the consequences for their actions, but I also believe in the punishment fitting the crime. In the U.S., neither of these crimes is a capital offence.

Horn is a murderer. The fact that he didn't get indicted doesn't make me feel safe and secure against home invasions. It just makes me sad.

class factotum

"in theory your life is worth more than my DVD player."

Nope. You decide to break into my house, steal my stuff and scare me to death because I don't know what you plan to do next, then my stuff becomes more valuable than your life. I would shed no tears if my neighbor shot you dead as he saw you exiting my house. If I had a gun, I'd shoot you myself.

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