[author: Aaron Kase]
A Texas man is facing life in prison after being found guilty of murder for shooting his neighbor in 2010, in a case that is being compared to the Travyon Martin slaying in Florida earlier this year.
Man shot neighbor after complaining about noise at a party
Claimed self defense under Texas’ Castle Doctrine law
Similarities in Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws
Deadly Birthday Party
Raul Rodriguez, a 47-year-old retired firefighter who lived in a Houston suburb, shot and killed neighbor Kelly Danaher in the street after approaching Danaher’s house to complain about noise coming from the birthday party for Danaher’s wife and daughter. In a confrontation that Rodriguez captured on video, he killed the 36-year-old school teacher and wounded two other men after repeatedly claiming over the phone to police that he feared for his life.
After closing arguments in Rodriguez’s trial Wednesday, jurors returned a guilty verdict after about five hours of deliberation. The trial’s punishment phase starts today.
Rodriguez’s lawyers argued that he was acting in self defense and had the right to shoot Danaher under Texas’ 2007 expanded Castle Doctrine law, which eliminates the requirement to retreat before defending oneself. However, jurors sided with the prosecution, which pointed out that Rodriguez initiated the confrontation by marching over toward his neighbor’s house, and escalated it by pulling a gun and shooting the unarmed men.
“It should be noted that Mr. Rodriguez had a license to carry the weapon and clearly thought there was some chance he might have to use it before the confrontation took place, so he wanted to be sure to videotape the confrontation, and was also consciously invoking self-defense as the confrontation transpired,” notes Mick Mickelsen, a criminal defense attorney in Dallas.
Local news report with footage of the shooting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=t0hzt1saKsY
No Duty to Retreat
Like many states, Texas grants citizens the right to defend themselves when attacked, or in certain other circumstances. “The notable thing about the Texas Castle Doctrine is that there is no ‘duty to retreat’ and it is permitted to use deadly force to prevent crimes being committed such as robbery or rape,” Mickelsen says. “In Texas one is not limited to using deadly force only in those circumstances in which the person defending themselves had a reasonable belief that their life, or another person’s life, was in danger.” In another case in the state, a grand jury is pondering whether a father should face charges for beating to death a man who tried to molest his four-year-old daughter.
When a person claims self defense, it’s up to prosecutors to prove them wrong if they want to gain a conviction. “When self-defense is raised the State must prove its absence by a beyond a reasonable doubt burden of proof,” says Mickelsen. “Moreover, the law creates a presumption that the actions of the individual claiming self-defense are reasonable if the actor knew or had reason to believe that certain [crimes] such as robbery, rape or attempted murder were being committed.”
In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing in Florida earlier this year, one Texas lawmaker has moved to repeal the expanded Castle Doctrine, claiming it leads to people shooting first when otherwise no violence might have occurred. A Texas A&M study released Tuesday found a seven to nine percent increase in homicides in states that have expanded Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws, with no evidence of crime deterrence.
Echos of Florida
Between 23 and 25 states have variations on no duty to retreat laws, depending on who is interpreting the law. In Florida, unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was killed by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. The shooting provoked a national discussion on Stand Your Ground-type laws when Zimmerman initially escaped arrest by claiming self defense when he pulled the trigger on Martin.
“The interesting thing about the Florida law is its ‘immunity from prosecution’ provision to prevent people like Mr. Rodriguez from having to go through the ordeal of an arrest and trial,” says Mickelsen. “The Florida police may only arrest someone if it’s determined there is probable cause to believe the use of force was unlawful. In Texas, the police may make an arrest in a case such as Mr. Rodriguez and do not first have to make a determination about his assertion of self-defense.”
Zimmerman was eventually arrested and will stand trial for homicide. The result of his trial in combination with the Rodriguez verdict and other similar cases will help guide states and citizens alike on the rights and limits granted by Stand Your Ground laws and exactly what does and does not constitute self defense.
*Raul Rodriguez was found guilty of murder in a triple shooting that left one man dead and two others injured during a dispute over the neighbor's loud party early Sunday, May 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Harris County Sheriff's Office via Houston Chronicle)