Grand Jury Clears Man for Shooting Men

A suburban Houston homeowner was cleared by a grand jury Monday for shooting to death two men he suspected of burglarizing his neighbor's home.

Joe Horn, 61, shot the two men last November after he saw them crawling out the windows of a neighbor's house in Pasadena, a Houston suburb.

Horn, a retired grandfather, called 911 and told the dispatcher he had a shotgun and was going to kill them. The dispatcher pleaded with him not to go outside, but Horn confronted the men with a 12-gauge shotgun and shot both in the back.

"The message we're trying to send today is the criminal justice system works," Harris County District Attorney Kenneth Magidson told reporters at the courthouse.

Horn's attorney, Tom Lambright, has said his client believed the two men had broken into his neighbor's home and that he shot them only when they came into his yard and threatened him.

The two suspected burglars, Hernando Riascos Torres, 38, and Diego Ortiz, 30, were unemployed illegal immigrants from Colombia. Torres was deported to Colombia in 1999 after a 1994 cocaine-related conviction.

The incident touched off protests from civil rights activists who said the shooting was racially motivated and that Horn took the law into his own hands. Horn's supporters defended his actions, saying he was protecting himself and being a good neighbor to a homeowner who was out of town.

"I understand the concerns of some in the community regarding Mr. Horn's conduct," Magidson said. "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 use of deadly force did not rise to a criminal offense."

Magidson said nine of the 12 grand jurors would have had to vote in favor of an indictment in order for Horn to be charged.

Lambright said this week that his client regrets the shooting and would stay inside if he had it to do over again.

Lambright did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment from The Associated Press.

In the 911 call, a dispatcher urges Horn to stay inside his house and not risk lives.

"Don't go outside the house," the 911 operator pleaded. "You're gonna get yourself shot if you go outside that house with a gun. I don't care what you think."

"You wanna make a bet?" Horn answered. "I'm gonna kill 'em."

After the shooting, he redialed 911.

"I had no choice," he said, his voice shaking. "They came in the front yard with me, man. I had no choice. Get somebody over here quick."

Texas law allows people to use deadly force to protect themselves if it is reasonable to believe they are in mortal danger. In limited circumstances, people also can use deadly force to protect their neighbor's property; for example, if a homeowner asks a neighbor to watch over his property while he's out of town.

It's not clear whether the neighbor whose home was burglarized asked Horn to watch over his house.