Thursday, December 13, 2007

Joe Horn, Sharon Keller, and Texas' frontier justice

Kudos to Lisa Falkenberg for her willingness to write the ugly fact:

Human life is worth more than property. It seems like a universal truth. But apparently not in Texas, or other states with similar laws.

Over the past week, I've researched the Texas Penal Code and discovered some provisions that were surprising even to this fifth-generation Texan. The law of our land seems to place more value on the property being stolen — even if it belongs to a neighbor — than on the life of the burglar stealing it.

A review of our state's protection-of-property statutes suggests that Horn's repeated declarations about not letting the burglars "get away with it" may be the words that ultimately set him free.

If Horn doesn't get indicted, don't blame the grand jury. And don't blame Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal. Blame the section of Chapter 9 of the Penal Code that deals with protection of property.

Under the section, which has been in place at least since 1973, a person is justified in using deadly force to protect a neighbor's property from burglary if the person "reasonably believes" deadly force is immediately necessary to stop the burglars from escaping with the stolen property. It's also justified if the shooter "reasonably believes" that "the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means."

Justifiable homicide. Castle doctrine. "He needed killin' ".

The vast majority of Texans -- conservative Republicans and Democrats alike -- love this idea of Judge Roy Bean, "shoot-first-ask-questions-later" dispensation of justice. The rest of us know it's crude, ignorant, and abhorrent, and the majority of nearly 500 comments (at the time of this posting) from Chronicle readers at the link to the op-ed above proves it.

The "hang 'em high" mindset screeches at full volume today on the Chron's website, from that page to the latest report about Judge Sharon "Killer" Keller's 5 p.m. justice. Commenters at both pages represent many more -- and likely a majority of Texans -- who would just as soon take matters into their own heavily armed hands and dispense their personal opinion of 'criminal justice' at the end of a gun, or a needle, or a noose.

If that's really what Jesus would do, then I'm glad I'm not a Christian.

Falkenberg finds someone who acknowledges the inherent political cowardice reality:

"My sense is that the reason, not just Texas, but other states have been enacting statutes more and more like this is because politicians are afraid to vote against them," said Steven Goode, a law professor at the University of Texas.

"They don't want the next attack ad to be one where they are criticized for voting against someone's ability to protect themselves in their home."

"In a calmer and less politicized environment we might have different laws," Goode said. "But campaign ads don't allow for particularly nuanced discussions of issue."

Let's bottom-line it.

Judge Keller needs to resign, or be impeached. Joe Horn needs to be arrested and charged with murder in the first, so that a jury of his "peers" can determine his guilt or innocence. I'm convinced he'll be just as safe following the verdict as he is today -- certainly so if he is tried in Harris County. That's how justice is supposed to work, after all.

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