Neighbor shoots fleeing burglars
February 8, 2008
Joe Horn was relaxing at his home outside of Houston, Texas when he heard glass breaking. He looked out the window and saw two men in broad daylight using a crowbar to break into his neighbors house.
Joe grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun and called 911. Heres the exchange.Uh, Ive got a shotgun uh, do you want me to stop them?Nope, dont do that, the dispatcher responded. Aint no property worth shooting somebody over, OK? Joe Horn and the 911 dispatcher spoke for several minutes while Joe pleaded for the dispatcher to send out the police to stop the burglars from escaping. The dispatcher continued to urge Joe to stay inside. But Joe is a Texas boy. Dont go outside the house, the 911 dispatcher pleaded. Youre going to get yourself shot if you go outside that house with a gun. I dont care what you think.You want to make a bet? Joe answered. Im going to kill them.Shortly afterwards the burglars crawled back out the window. They were carrying a bag, which was later determined to contain a large amount of cash. The police had not yet arrived, and Joe yelled to the dispatcher, Well, here it goes, buddy, as a shell clicked into the chamber. You hear the shotgun clicking, and Im going. A few seconds passed.Move, Joe can be heard saying on the tape. Or youre dead. Boom.Click.Boom.Click.Boom.Apparently someone moved.Joe picked up the receiver and said, They came into my front yard so I shot one and hes in the yard next door and the other one is running down the street.Both men died, each shot once at a range of about 15 feet. I am fairly certain Joes defense will be he feared for his life. Which may be hard to prove if the burglars have buckshot in their backs.
Joe Horns case is similar to Bernard Goetz, the young New Yorker who shot four menacing teenagers on a subway. The four were trying to rob him when they asked for $5, he said.Goetz got off on the murder and assault charges even though his last shot was at point blank range as the wounded teen laid on the subway floor. But he was convicted of illegal possession of the gun. Even today Goetz remains a hero to some and an out-of-control murderer to others.Joe Horns case will test Texas law of self-defense and defense of property albeit a neighbors. No charges have been filed yet.
Im not sure of California law on self-defense and defense of property, and when I briefly researched it to finish up this column, I got even more confused. Happens a lot these days.I believe homicide, at a minimum, is justifiable, when you are resisting an attempted murder or stopping a felony or when you kill in defense of your occupied home. When you may use deadly force is spelled out in California codes and thousands of court cases. Too much reading for the civil law lawyer.If you actually and reasonably believe your life is threatened, deadly force is justifiable. I think it is the same if someone is breaking into your home. Shooting to kill to protect personal property with no threat of life may be a different story. Shooting in the back to protect your neighbors property may just get Joe Horn a manslaughter charge. But dont count on it. I remember being told in law school, If you shoot a robber in your yard, drag him into your house.
Maybe our deputy district attorney or a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help us out with the law of justifiable homicide, self-defense, defense of property or home, and deadly force vs. non-deadly force what are a laypersons rights and duties?Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter andamp; Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firms Web site http://www.portersimon.com.