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Homeowner Cleared Of Killing Burglary Suspects

POSTED: 1:10 pm CDT June 30, 2008
UPDATED: 5:22 pm CDT June 30, 2008

HOUSTON -- A Pasadena homeowner who fatally shot two men suspected of burglarizing his neighbor's house was cleared by a Harris County grand jury on Monday, KPRC Local 2 reported.

Joe Horn's attorney, Tom Lambright, said that his 62-year-old client "acted in self-defense and had no choice."

Grand jurors announced the decision to not have charges filed against Horn after gathering evidence for two weeks, including hearing testimony from Horn.

Pasadena police said Horn killed burglary suspects Hernando Torres, 38, and Diego Ortiz, 30, by shooting them in the back at about 2 p.m. on Nov. 14 as they ran from Horn's neighbor's house in the 7400 block of Timberline Drive.

"Today, having heard and considered all the evidence, the grand jury no-billed Joe Horn. I can tell you the grand jury conducted a thorough review of the evidence and the testimony," Harris County District Attorney Ken Magidson said.

"I think evidence showed Joe was within his legal rights to do what he did. He didn't want to do it. But he didn't have any other alternative. (In a) situation like that, it occurred so fast, there was no time for thinking," Lambright said. "This was a bad situation. Joe didn't want to be there. I hope no other homeowner is ever placed in that position. Joe was not some kind of wild cowboy. He was trying to help police. He got put in a situation that any one of us could find ourselves in."

Horn called 911 and told a dispatcher he witnessed two men break into his neighbor's house and that he would shoot if he stepped outside.

Horn told a 911 operator to hurry police because he was not going to let the men get away.

Horn: "I can't take a chance on getting killed over this, OK?"

911: "No."

Horn: "I'm going to shoot."

911: "Stay inside the house and don't go out there, OK?"

A few minutes later, Torres and Ortiz, both illegal immigrants, were dead.

Horn's attorney said the grandfather regretted killing the men, but that Horn acted in self-defense. Texas law gives homeowners the right to use deadly force to defend lives or property.

"It could have been, they believed Joe Horn. It could have been they believed the castle doctrine applied. It could have been they thought anybody confronted with two burglars coming out of their neighbor's house in broad daylight deserved the ultimate punishment," said Brian Wice, Local 2's legal analyst.

The district attorney was asked what message the grand jury's decision might send.

"I think the message we're trying to send out here today is that the criminal justice system works. That every case will be looked into thoroughly and appropriately, and every case will be judged on its merits," Magidson said.

Horn was hailed as a hero by some and condemned as a killer by others. Hundreds on both sides demonstrated outside his Pasadena home after the shootings.

"There is not a snowflake chance in (expletive) that an African-American could have done what Joe Horn did and not be locked away in the Harris County jail," community activist Quanell X said in a statement Monday.

District Attorney's Statement

District Attorney Kenneth Magidson issued the following statement regarding the decision of a Harris County grand jury to no-bill Joe Horn.

"In June, after the conclusion of a long and exhaustive investigation by the City of Pasadena Police Department into the deaths of Hernando Riascos Torres and Diego Ortiz on November 14, 2007, our office presented the results of that investigation and all relevant witnesses to a Harris County grand jury for them to determine whether any criminal offense had been committed by Joe Horn, in relation to their deaths. Today, having heard and considered all of the law and evidence, the grand jury no-billed Joe Horn.

"Although, by state law, I cannot discuss the actual proceedings in the grand jury, I can tell you that the grand jury conducted a thorough review of the evidence and testimony. They considered the relevant criminal statutes in Texas, including those pertaining to homicide, use of deadly force, self-defense, and defense of property. In short, before making their decision, they were as well-informed on the facts and circumstances of this case as any deliberative body could be.

"I also understand the concerns of some in the community regarding Mr. Horn's conduct. The use of deadly force is carefully limited in Texas law to certain circumstances, and each case stands or falls on its particular facts.

"This office will continue to aggressively prosecute anyone who illegally engages in the use of force, deadly or otherwise, against another. In this case, however, the grand jury concluded that Mr. Horn's use of deadly force did not rise to a criminal offense.

"As independent decision-makers of probable cause in our most serious criminal cases, the grand jurors deserve our deference and respect for their role in our criminal justice system."

City of Pasadena Statement

"With a decision by the grand jury not to return a true bill against Mr. Horn, a panel of citizens drawn from the community has determined that the facts of the incident did not warrant the handing up of an indictment for criminal actions. The grand jury, hearing the available facts and witnesses as well as the law to be applied in this case, is in the best position to make that determination.

"Mr. Horn has satisfied the state, through the grand jury process, that his actions do not warrant criminal prosecution on these charges. We hope that the decision of the grand jury, while difficult for some to accept, will be respected as the product of a careful weighing of all the facts by an impartial panel of citizens.

"This incident has been a tragedy for all those involved, changing lives forever. The obvious lessons that can be drawn from it are that criminal activities are inherently a dangerous lifestyle, and the prevention and pursuit of those involved in criminal actions are best left to the police. They are professionals trained to meet the unexpected circumstances of pursuit and apprehension. The City of Pasadena intends to continue to provide its police force whatever resources required to assure our citizens that their community remains a safe place to live and work."
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