When You Can Kill in Texas

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On Christmas Eve in 2009, Ezekiel Gilbert paid an escort he found on Craigslist $150 for what he thought would be sex. Instead, according to the San Antonio Express-News, 23-year-old Lenora Frago left his apartment after about 20 minutes without consummating the act. Gilbert, now 30, followed her to a car with a gun and shot her in the neck through the passenger-side window. Frago became paralyzed, and died about seven months later. Gilbert admitted to shooting her but contended that he did not intend to kill.

Gilbert was tried for murder. Last Wednesday, a Texas jury ruled that his actions were legal. That’s because Texas penal code contains an unusual provision that grants citizens the right to use deadly force to prevent someone “who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property.”

Texas A&M Professor Mark Hoekstra, who studies the effectiveness of lethal-force provisions in self-defense law, says the protection-of-property element of the deadly force law is “pretty unique to Texas.” Within Texas, however, the case was not unique. In 2010, the law protected a Houston taco-truck owner who shot a man for stealing a tip jar containing $20.12. Also in Houston, a store clerk recently killed a man for shoplifting a twelve-pack of beer, and in 2008 a man from Laredo was acquitted for killing a 13-year-old boy who broke into his trailer looking for snacks and soda.

Texas law also justifies killing to protect others’ property. In 2007, a man told 14 times by a 911 operator to remain inside during a robbery gunned down two thieves fleeing from his neighbor’s house. (“There’s no property worth shooting somebody over, OK?” the operator said on the call. The shooter’s response: “The law has been changed….Here it goes, buddy! You hear the shotgun clickin’ and I’m goin’!”) He was acquitted the next year.

So-called “justifiable homicides” are on the rise in Texas, where in 2007 Governor Rick Perry expanded already expansive lethal-force laws to allow Texans to kill in their vehicles and workplaces in self-defense or in any location to stop “aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery.” Though the penal code has included the clause discussing “theft during the nighttime” since the 1970s, some Texans might have taken the 2007 change as a declaration of open season. From 2002 to 2006, there were 146 cases of justifiable homicide committed by private citizens. From 2007 to 2011, the number jumped to 224, an increase of more than 50%.

Such cases have often drawn outrage and prompted communities to question the state’s lethal-force laws. Proponents of lethal force in cases of self-defense say that crime rates have fallen in response to the laws. But a study conducted by Hoekstra and his colleague Cheng Cheng found that overall homicide numbers rose in the 21 states that adopted such laws between 2000 and 2010.

Chandler McClellan and Erdal Tekin, who study lethal force at the National Bureau of Economic Research, conducted research that confirmed Hoekstra and Cheng’s results. “To the extent Gilbert’s acquittal depended on a defense of justifiable homicide,” they wrote, “the result is consistent with the notion that such force may not have been used except for the liberalization of laws meant to prevent homicide. Further, this acquittal could indicate to others that the use of lethal force is acceptable under a broad set of circumstances, thereby resulting in more violence. While the expansion of self-defense laws has slowed in the wake of recent high-profile cases such as Trayvon Martin, there have been no concerted efforts to roll back these laws or establish stricter standards.”

Due to the criminal nature of the Gilbert case, an appeal cannot be filed by the state.

82 comments
teddyhumphries
teddyhumphries

Look at all the people defending the criminals. What have we become? Sad. Also what this article purposefully doesn't point out is that the man shot at the woman's tire. A piece of metal came off striking her in the neck, eventually killing her. He was charged with murder and under the law he was NOT guilty of murder because of he did not intend to kill her. The reason this man was convicted of NOTHING was because the prosecution did not charge him with MANSLAUGHTER. Of which he would have easily been found guilty. That's the reason he walked. It was the FAILURE of the prosecution. NOT the failure of Texas' Laws. And now you know THE REST OF THE STORY.

teddyhumphries
teddyhumphries

Look at all the people defending the criminals. What have we become? Sad. Also what this article purposefully doesn't point out is that the man shot at the woman's tire. A piece of metal came off striking her in the neck, eventually killing her. He was charged with murder and under the law he was NOT guilty of murder because of he did not intend to kill her. The reason this man was convicted of NOTHING was because the prosecution did not charge him with MANSLAUGHTER. Of which he would have easily been found guilty. That's the reason he walked. It was the FAILURE of the prosecution. NOT the failure of Texas' Laws. And now you know THE REST OF THE STORY.

RobertOrozco
RobertOrozco

Remember folks,

"You don't aim a gun at someone unless you intend to shoot them."
"You don't shoot someone unless you aim to kill them."


thediagram
thediagram

This comment thread reads like a satire of how the world believes Americans think. So many hicks. How embarrassing for you all.

NicholausWasserman
NicholausWasserman

God Bless Texas!  This is why I live here.  No liberal BS.  You steal from or threaten me, I'm gonna shoot you dead!

JeffCrayton
JeffCrayton

@NicholausWasserman Pardon me, but you can screw yourself and your comments about Liberals.  I live in Texas, I own a weapon.  I would use it if forced to under dire circumstances and I am a liberal supporter of Bernie Sanders.  So maybe instead of painting everyone with your narrow minded brush, you could focus on the topic at hand and leave your politics, however badly flawed they may be, to yourself?

asteed
asteed

Miles, I don't know if you will see this or not, but I wanted to thank you for writing this article. I want to thank you because, by reading it, my opinion on this issue has become clearer. I live in Texas. Most of the people I love do, too. And, while it may seem out of sync, I now completely agree with this law and if you care to know why, I will tell you.


If a person knows that, by stealing that tip jar with 20 bucks in it, the person he stole from could legally shoot and kill him, that person is going to be less likely to steal that 20 bucks. It might force the would-be thief to use his brain, be creative, and come up with something more productive than petty theft. That seems like a win-win to me: crime is prevented and another hard-working American comes online. That's a benefit to everyone involved.


On the flip side of that coin, the person who decides to shoot another human being over 20 bucks would be thus affected in one of a few ways. If he were "normal," he would have to deal with the guilt that he maimed or killed a person over a pittance. He would have to live every day of the rest of his life knowing that he shot someone over less than three hours work at minimum wage. Even if he didn't give a red cent about the value of human life, his business would suffer the stigma of violence and be hung in the court of public opinion, having ended human life over essentially nothing. It wouldn't undo the harm, but justice would be served. We are not and will never be perfectly safe. I, for one, would rather be prepared than protected.


To me, being an American means having freedom of choice, tempered by the consequences of one's actions. The closer we move toward security, the farther we move from the very thing this country was founded upon: freedom of choice. That choice is what sets us apart as Americans. Sure, you could do that. It might be the stupidest thing anyone has ever come up with, but by God you had the freedom to do it. Now, you must suffer the consequences of your actions. THAT is the American way, which makes it all the more surprising that only Texas is doing it.

GaGa42
GaGa42

@asteed Since when did the penalty for petty theft become the death penalty? The scene you described sounds like something out of an old movie about the "wild West." Haven't we evolved as a society beyond that? So, in the scene you described, the petty thief pays for his crime with his life and the store employee/owner suffers a sullied reputation? How is that justice or even fair? 


Now, if the thief is armed and is pointing a gun at said owner/employee, that's a different situation, in my opinion, as his life is then being threatened hence he should have the right to used armed force to defend himself. But, I have a problem with a law that equates the value of a human life with "stuff." 

jason_hutchens
jason_hutchens

@asteed by your logic, why not allow all citizens to kill someone for any kind of misdemeanour? we would immediately enter a utopian age, with everyone being very, very polite to each other all of the time. right?

Rajani_Isa
Rajani_Isa

@asteed So you have no problem with the fact it can be legal to shoot someone who refuses to have sex with another person?


One case that this article doesn't mention is when a repo man was shot and the shooter not charged with murder.

RobertOrozco
RobertOrozco

@asteed 

"Even if he didn't give a red cent about the value of human life, his business would suffer the stigma of violence and be hung in the court of public opinion, having ended human life over essentially nothing. It wouldn't undo the harm, but justice would be served."

On that I would hang my hat on the principle of the matter. He shot the man yes, but was not some crazed murderer going around doing it for the thrill or joy of murder. So that violence does not bother me, same as if the non-violence of letting him go was his choice. My belief is he should have the right to defend himself and his property.

Teacher843
Teacher843

@asteed Asteed, I don't know if you will see this or not, but I want to tell you a story that I think - or at least hope and pray - will make you rethink your position on this.  I'm not mentioning this person's name or location out of interest for their privacy.


I'm a Texan, born and raised.  I love my state dearly and though I don't live there now I visit whenever I can and always hate to leave.  This summer, I did volunteer work at an inner city public charter school.  I tutored middle school children with special education needs who had failed classes and needed summer remedial work.  One fifth grade boy I worked with was in danger of being thrown out of the charter school because he was caught stealing shoes from the locker room to sell on the streets so he would have money to buy food with on the weekends, because the only meals he could rely on were what he got at school.  I don't know anything about his parents but that doesn't really matter - this child didn't choose to be born, didn't choose to be hungry, and hated what he had to do, but he did it to survive.  He was a good, respectful kid who worked hard and wanted to succeed.


Now, under these laws, I, the owner of the shoes, or anyone seeing him leave with them could shoot this fifth grade boy dead.  But, what else can he do?  He can't get a job, he's too young to hire.  His parents are God-knows-where doing God-knows-what.  The jurisdiction where this kid lives has continually had its budgets for food assistance, youth shelter and public education shredded since tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations have made it so they can't pay for those programs any more, which has created a vicious cycle of poverty.


So, given the situation for this kid, are these laws still fair?  How much blame can you fairly lay on the most helpless among us driven by desperation to survive?  Is $20 worth a life?  I agree that people should be able to protect their property, and I do think that deadly force is justified at a certain point, but we've got to lose our cowboy, vigilante justice fetish that surrounds guns and come up with reasonable laws that don't pander to a mentality where citizens shoot first and ask questions later, and recognize that we all win in society if we help each other out a little bit more.

JeffCrayton
JeffCrayton

@Teacher843 @asteed Thank you.  I have no answers, but you bring up serious questions that deserve serious consideration.  As much as I would like to kill the guy who stole the package with my Aunt Marva's fruitcake in it off my front porch, would it be right?  Would it be moral?  Could I live with that decision after I had made it?

katiegarxia
katiegarxia

For the people that don't like this law...just so you know, there are 49 other states you can move to. I don't understand why people move to Texas and complain about it. Those are the people that complain about everything no matter where they live. The LAW is not perfect. Never has been and never will be.

If someone breaks into my home I'm going to do what I have to in order to keep my family safe. Personally I would most likely have a bat or taser... but Someone breaking into my home is old enough to know what the hell they're doing. You have no clue who's home you're breaking into. So if you enter somewhere with the intentions of SIN, don't expect MERCY under your feet. People have doorbells, and there's a thing called "knocking". There's no JUSTIFIABLE reason for someone to break into anyone's home especially at 3 o'clock in the morning. I wouldn't allow someone to break into my home and just wait to see if they impose any kind of threat to me. By the time I dial 911 I could have been shot, stabbed, or he/she could have hurt my children. When it comes to my personal property and family I'll gladly take it into my own hands...

There are people who say "LEAVE IT TO THE POLICE TO DO THEIR JOB", or "LEAVE IT IN GOD'S HANDS HE'LL TAKE CARE OF YOU". Well, GOD gave me hands, eyes, and a brain to defend myself. There's no way on GOD'S GREEN EARTH I would let someone invade my home and let them think for a second that I would not retaliate.

jason_hutchens
jason_hutchens

@katiegarxia saying "if you don't like it, move away instead of complaining" is such a weak argument. i am sure that you have things to complain about in your life, and I'm sure you don't deal with those things by running away. so don't belittle the opinion of those that differ from you by telling them to love it or leave it.

JeffAnderson1
JeffAnderson1

Don't like the laws in Texas? Go somewhere else... Don't want to get shot? Don't be a thief... Texas is getting this RIGHT, the states that allow you to be prosecuted for DEFENDING yourself, someone else or your property or someone else's are getting it wrong!

RobertOrozco
RobertOrozco

@jason_hutchens @JeffAnderson1 

Exactly! I read your comments, decided I didn't agree with them.

I moved on to the next one and found you here too.

Where I decided to stay you will see my likes.


I did not move into you comment and try to edit it for you.

DuaneA.Webb
DuaneA.Webb

Some homicidal cowards will look for any reason to commit murder.  Even if it is over $20.00 in change.  Unfortunately, this is the embarrassing burden that responsible gun owners must shoulder - reckless, selfish, thrill-kill cowards who think their property is worth more than a human life.  Definitely not the Christian side of the club...

ShiningWolf
ShiningWolf

@DuaneA.Webb the bible says if they're caught stealing from your home and struck dead, the home owner is free from blood guilt.  So actually, it is christian. 

NathanSinclair
NathanSinclair

Don't want to get shot? Don't steal. I have the right to defend my property and livelihood against thieves and other criminals.

I'm happy to live in a free state where the rights of innocents are worth more than criminals.

DuaneA.Webb
DuaneA.Webb

@NathanSinclair and the People of the United States should just take your word for it that you were being robbed? What makes you think you have the right to impose the death penalty over a piece of property - which is not 'self-defense'.


Texas has a seriously flawed provision that clearly appeals to those who have no respect or value for human life.  I've been a handgun owner since I was 18, and a member of the NRA for the past 6 years and I can honestly say there is absolutely no way on Gods green Earth that I would shoot a teenager who is running away from my store simply because he left with $6 of food that he didn't pay for...that is HOMICIDAL, not DEFENSIVE.  People like you are an embarrassment to responsible ownership, and in some cases clearly pose a risk and a threat to public safety.

MichaelCoslett
MichaelCoslett

@DuaneA.Webb @NathanSinclair You're taking this to an extreme, Duane. No, he's not going to shoot some guy who stole insignificant items or some food or twenty bucks. He's not going to shoot anyone who just takes something from him.

What he WILL do, however, is under the FEAR that he may lose his own life during the act (say if the thief/criminal was wielding a deadly weapon; there are multiple criminals assaulting him simultaneously; or if any other implication of DEADLY FORCE) he would defend it with equivalent force.

Now that's not to say he plans to legitimately MURDER someone. Of course, under the circumstances the idea is mainly to incapacitate. And only lead to deadly force, and the loss of a life if that isn't an option.

It's a question of: "Am I going to die if I don't do something. Is my family going to die? Will someone be wounded beyond repair? Will something that MONEY CAN NOT FIX be harmed in anyway?"
If the answer to any of those is 'yes'? Well, you're well within your rights to exercise your right to live and defend your life.

You're misinterpreting the entire idea of deadly force.

--
That being said. If he did shoot someone over something petty like an unarmed theft, or something non-lethal directed toward him, then it is excessive force, and he becomes the greater threat to public safety. Then he is in the wrong, and deserves to be arrested for assault, aggravated assault, manslaughter, or murder.


MichaelCoslett
MichaelCoslett

@DuaneA.Webb Whose life do you think is more preferable? The guy defending himself, or the one with the intent to murder? Because when it comes down to it, that's the choice. The deadlier the weapon/force, the lower the percentage that both parties are coming out alive or unharmed.

It becomes a conflict of morality. And if you believe you should let someone murder you, then by all means. Your family will appreciate the funeral costs and the emptiness left in your absence. If you have children, I'm sure they'll love not having a father.

And then what? The murderer gets thrown away, and no amount of prison time will fix it. And if he gets slapped with Death Row? Well, now it's just two dead people. So it just gets worse as the scenarios build

NathanSinclair
NathanSinclair

Don't want to get shot? Don't steal.

I have the right to defend my property against thieves and aggressors.

I'm glad I live in a free state that puts the rights of innocents before criminals.

LeeKenyon
LeeKenyon

@NathanSinclair and guns can be the only chance the few have against the many. Groups of villains have been known to flee when the chance of death is high from a single man.

GonzJohnny
GonzJohnny

ACCORDING TO THIS ARTICLE (OR TEXAS LAWS):  there should be no problem with anyone shooting their kids for stealing the cookies, right? RIGHT !


WAIT, WHAT? You don't agree? Ohh come on. Why not?  Everyone should obey the laws !!!  haha

JohnWesley
JohnWesley

Good. Open war on thieves. Thieves and con artists brought this upon themselves by abusing the system for years.

rogue458
rogue458

I live in Houston, If you either try to harm me or my family, steal my vehicles, or break into my home. If i don't know who you are and you do either of the things I listed, Expect to get shot... Man/Woman/Teenager... i don't care who you are

LeeKenyon
LeeKenyon

@rogue458 Gun are useful tools but even a experience and skilled veteran of many wars can be caught flat footed and killed. Happens to cops and it can happen to you.

SandraBrown
SandraBrown

Printing plates from the US mint? A signet ring? The rent money in winter? The property you risked your life to earn? What then about the plans to a marvelous invention, that you were just about to patent? Your credit cards, ID, and everything else that goes with your honorable name (your credit rating, your ability to provide well for your family)? The keys and address to your house? And what if the job you earn your living with isn't high risk? You've still put years of your life into earning your money, and however many years went into buying that vehicle, or that lovely watch or piece of jewelry, that you've already shown to your kid, and asked that kid to promise to your grandchildren...

Whenever you give people power, you risk them abusing it, but what Texas has done is give more power to the first victim than to the obvious criminal. Perhaps we could legally protect those who use deadly, or other, force from civil liability unless convicted in court of a directly related crime, but hold liable those who use force when the property is blatantly trivial, there is no threat to person, to live property, or to animal life on real property, and there is no apparent risk of escalation of the current crime, or of escalated further attacks. This will answer, at least, the obvious abuses of our right, which the lawmakers sought to recognize, the right to protect both ourselves, and what we may either depend on or have put so much of ourselves into.

Stumpy
Stumpy

This is a really stupid law.  While I agree that a person should have the right to protect his or her property, shooting someone over a tip jar with $21 in it is murder.  There's no way around that.  Because anyone who thinks its okay to shoot someone over such a low amount of money is also saying that a life worth less than $21 and some change. Then there's the nighttime aspect of the law. Were all the shootings described in the article above done during the night? Because the jest of the law surely indicates that at night a person cannot see whomever is committing the crime. So while I certainly agree with this part of the law, it seems that some of these cases happened during the day. And to think that people are screaming about Florida's Stand Your Ground law. That law is far more conservative than this. These cases would have been tried as Murder in Florida, because not a single one meets the criteria in Florida to take a life. Hard to believe that with such liberal gun laws in Texas that there are so many people on death row in this state. If I were a bank CEO, there's no way in hell anyone in Texas would get a car or any other type of loan from my bank. This is because the bank has the right to repossess it's collateral if payment is not made. But after reading the article again, I could also twist the Texas law to suit my needs and simply shoot anyone who is behind in their payments, because if you don't pay for property that you've got in your possession, it's called STEALING in all fifty states. Lenders are the true owners of collateral that's used to secure loans until such loans are paid off. This in turn would make every person who defaulted on a loan a thief, giving me the right to shoot on default. This twisting of the law is no different than the twisting of the law in the article above to find those people innocent of their actions.The law in Texas does not hold people responsible to a high enough stand for the use of deadly force against another human being. But then again, as an outsider looking in, I can clearly say that you just can't fix STUPID.  (oh, and before people start making the whining Democrat comments on this, I happen to be a Republican).

EricWebb
EricWebb

Your analogy about shooting someone behind on their car payments doesn't fit the law. Being behind on your payments is not robbery. In fact being behind on payments isnt a crime at all. Robbery is defined as the felonious taking of property of another from his or her person or in his or her immediate presence, against his or her will, by violence or intimidation. So you couldn't shoot someone for shoplifting or burglary either, much less failing to pay an electricity bill, that's absurd.

JohnWesley
JohnWesley

No it is not saying a life is worth $21, it is saying that no thievery has to be tolerated and that the victims now have the power.

Dont steal and if someone in texas tries to place you under citizens arrest for stealing or shoplifting dont run away.

Some drug addicts admit to running out of stores with a case of beer with pride because the store cant do anything to them.

Open war on thieves, they brought it upon themselves.

JohnWesley
JohnWesley

If you moved to Texas you probably wouldnt have to worry about this happening again...and if it did you wouldnt have to be a victim.

GonzJohnny
GonzJohnny

@Stumpy  Your analogy makes sense. I agree with you. We can almost twist anything in life. The same would go for the repo guy who shows up to my front door to repo (steal ) my vehicle. I can argue I saw someone stealing my property and I shot the guy dead. But since everything can be twisted, it would be a matter of convincing the jury (common folks who have their own problems), or the judge to say who's side they're on.

HomerBarrett
HomerBarrett

Ok so now your saying because it was Only 21 dollars he shouldn't have used deadly force. So now they have to have a price on what they steal? 1 or 1 million doesn't make a difference. Yes I agree it's sad but not for the victim but for the thief because he risked his life for 21 dollars and he paid the price. Until you know what it is like to walk into you home and have it ransacked and the person's still in the house. You don't know fear and violation. To see your kids toys and clothes and other things thrown around. You feel helpless and devastated. So my personal opinion is this you don't want me to shot then don't come on my property try and steal rob vandalize or destroy thing that I have worked hard for. People are to soft on the criminals until it happens to you.

swimming2win
swimming2win

@Stumpy  The world has enough thieves. You never know what the thief is capable of. Someone left the door unlocked, and we had a thief come in and steal stuff. Fine, that was our stupidity. From then on, we made 100% sure to lock the door. The thief came back a few months later and axed the doors down. That is dangerous and could have been deadly for anyone in the house. Thankfully no one was home. Lesson learned from time #2---Never underestimate someone willing to commit a crime. Yes, I would shoot a thief, even if it was an older teenager stealing something. I wouldn't aim to kill, but I'm no expert marksman, either. The moment a thief decides to commit the crime is the moment they are risking the consequences. 

tbsjr1
tbsjr1

The right to protecting yourself and your personal property is something all men should be born with. Thankfully I live in the State of Texas where it is still legal to defend against criminal activity.  When seconds count the police are just minutes away.

Death, shot up, beat to a pulp, stabbed, run over, etc... all occupational hazards of a thief/criminal.  If I was a thief operating in Texas I would find a new home somewhere friendlier like California or New York where I wouldn't have to worry about being shot at.

Stealing is at bottom of the barrel - down there with rape 


If you don't steal from others, you can expect to live longer.


DuaneA.Webb
DuaneA.Webb

@tbsjr1 you defend against criminal activity before you've proven to a court of law that the activity was criminal?

trammel
trammel

The IRS should have the right to execute anyone who doesn't pay their taxes. Income tax evasion is theft from everyone!

Stumpy
Stumpy

@trammel According to the way the Texas law's worded, that is absolutely true.  So on April 16th, as soon as the sun goes down, the IRS should lawfully be able to go and shoot anyone who has yet to pay taxes, as they've stolen from the United States of America.

operator47
operator47

@trammel  State sanctioned killing? You could trust the government with that much power? I call reductio ad absurdum as well.

GonzJohnny
GonzJohnny

@trammel  Have you killed your children for stealing the cookies they told them not to steal? haha (Ooops) 

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