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.

23 comments
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).

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.


trammel
trammel

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

james.lewallen
james.lewallen

Only whiny libs would find fault with penalties for scumbag thieves and rights for law - abiding citizens who work for a living. Don't steal or break into other people's private property and you won't get shot!!!

Cos2mwiz2
Cos2mwiz2

Clearly Texas is a haven for the mentally ill...and all such "good Christians" too. Seems there is a correlation there. 

dizzbrown1960
dizzbrown1960

A great reason to steer clear of the Lone Star State if you are a criminal.Or if you're a sane person.Just a wee bit trigger happy for my taste.

IronGoat
IronGoat

Theft is unlawful. In Texas it is not against the law to shoot a theif.

Don't want to get shot ?

Don't steal.

OldFashionedLiberal
OldFashionedLiberal

You can kill people in Texas anytime you get a prosecutor who wants to get a Texas jury mad at a defendant.

Is Texas actually part of the United States or is it in some special category for backward places?

MustBeReallyBored
MustBeReallyBored

Figured this would happen. State of Texas gets busted for one of the highest false conviction rates in the country (not to mention executing an innocent or two), so they just change the laws to let citizens freely kill one another.

Don't know who is more seriously stupid, the perps that killed these folks, or the juries that let them off?

lurch
lurch

People killing neighbor's they hate because of this law. Read somewhere where a drug store clerk beat a homeless man to death for stealing a toothbrush and toothpaste.

It's legal to murder now. They will still have to answer to God. But the state law says A-OK.

isis5632
isis5632

Your life is in danger, okay. $20.12 tip jar? $150 for paid sex? You can really live with yourself? As a community we are now forced to live with YOU when that is your mentality for life?

operator47
operator47

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

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.

Stumpy
Stumpy

@james.lewallen Its not a matter of finding fault with punishing thieves who steal from others, its a matter of finding the right balance of punishment for what fits the crime. As the article above points out, a kid was shot for stealing a tip jar with $21 and some change in it. Please, somebody justify to me how a human life is worth less than that. Because if you feel that your life's worth more than that, then you must acknowledge that so is everyone else's.

Stumpy
Stumpy

@Cos2mwiz2 Well, when you just can't fix STUPID, sent them to Texas!!!

operator47
operator47

@isis5632 Mabye a clause in law about relative value of ones property proportionate to said ones income level would work. For example Person A makes $4000 a month and cannot use lethal force against Person B, the thief, unless they steal an item worth 10% of their monthly income. Add in a 10% depreciation for a used item, that would come out to $400 for a new item,  or $360 for a used item.

operator47
operator47

@isis5632  But I work really hard for my things. Why should they be allowed to take it freely?

ur.still.wrong
ur.still.wrong

Like the sign in the yard says, there is nothing in this house worth dying for.  Quit trying to justify stealing and theft.

operator47
operator47

@Stumpy @james.lewallen  You're mixing 2 parts of the article there. The teenager was shot breaking into a trailer. A man was shot for stealing a tip jar.