A 61-year-old Texas retiree, who a jury decided would not go to trial after shooting and killing two men he believed to be intruders while he talked to a 911 dispatcher, said he regretted the incident but believes it could serve as a deterrent for criminals.
"Do I think it's a deterrent? Is that what you are asking? Yes it is, but that is not my intent," Joe Horn said in an exclusive interview on "Good Morning America" today.
While some critics have complained that Horn, who was cleared by a Harris County grand jury Monday, took the law into his own hands, he disagreed.
"For 61 years I was never a vigilante. Why would I be a vigilante over this incident?" the Houston man said. "To go through an event like this, you cannot imagine how badly you feel."
Horn insisted he feared for his own life when he called 911 on Nov. 14, 2007, to report two burglars were robbing his neighbor's home. He said the fear for his own life was the reason he shot and killed Diego Ortiz and Miguel de Jesus, who were illegal Colombian immigrants.
"I didn't go outside to engage anybody. I just went outside to get information for the police," Horn said.
A Move to Save His Life?
Though the 911 operator clearly tells Horn to remain inside his home at least 13 times on the recording of the conversation, Horn sounds impatient and at times defiant as he tells the operator he is going outside with his shotgun.
Joe Horn: "I've got a shotgun. You want me to stop him?"
Dispatcher: "Nope. Don't do that. Ain't no property worth shooting somebody over, OK?"
Joe Horn: "Hurry up, man, catch these guys, will you? Because I ain't gonna let them go. I'm gonna kill him."
Dispatcher: "OK, stay in the house."
Joe Horn: "They're getting away!"
Dispatcher: "That's all right."
Joe Horn: (Shouts to suspects) "Move, you're dead."
"You're listening to a man that is scared and alone," Horn said. "That is a man that has never, never been in any kind of situation like this in his entire life" and that his talk was more bravado than anything else.
After Horn makes his declaration to the operator, three gunshots can be heard on the tape. Both were shot in the back and pronounced dead at the scene.
But Horn said it's not entirely true that he shot both men in the back.
"One of them was shot in the side closest to the back of his body. They call that the back," Horn said. "It happened very fast."
He added that the men were crossing his lawn when the incident happened.
Castle Law Ignites Debate
Horn's attorney Tom Lambright said his client was well within his rights under Texas' Castle Law, 'which he claimed allowed people to protect their property or their neighbors' property with deadly force.
"That's the reason Mr. Horn was completely within his rights," Lambright said on "Good Morning America" today. "That's what the law absolutely states."
"When you're confronted, and when somebody's rushes you — and you already told them not to move — you know you must shoot or you'll already be dead," Horn said. "I had to do the right thing to save my life, but this is not a good feeling."
The case has highlighted law enforcement officials and law experts' debate about the merits of the Castle Law, which went into effect on Sept. 1, 2007.
"There's too many imponderables in this law, whereas the previous law was working just fine," Warren Diepraam, the Harris County Assistant District Attorney, told ABC a few months ago. "Frankly, life is precious."
Even some of the law's supporters have said the law doesn't support Horn's actions.
Still Harris County District Attorney Kenneth Magidson stood by the grand jury's decision.
"I understand the concerns of some in the community regarding Mr. Horn's conduct," Magidson told reporters at the courthouse. "The use of deadly force is carefully limited in Texas law to certain circumstances. ... In this case, however, the grand jury concluded that Mr. Horn's use of deadly force did not rise to a criminal offense."
But Ortiz's and de Jesus' families and friends wanted to see Horn prosecuted.
"This man took the law into his own hands," Stephanie Storey, De Jesus' fiancee, told ABC News just after the shootings. "He shot two individuals in the back after having been told over and over to stay inside. It was his choice to go outside and his choice to take two lives."
With all the attention Horn's case has brought, he said his life has been difficult.
"It's been very traumatic. It's been awful. I'm scared to go somewhere people may recognize me," he said. "To be in a situation where you have to take two lives to save your own, you have no idea."
"No one wants to feel like I feel," Horn said.