Man Cleared for Killing Neighbor's Burglars

Texas grand jury won't indict man for protecting his neighbor's property.


July 1, 2008— -- A Texas man who shot and killed two men he believed to be burglars while he was talking to a 911 dispatcher won't be going to trial. A grand jury on Monday declined to indict Joe Horn, a 61-year-old computer technician who lives in Pasadena, Texas, just outside Houston.

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Before making its decision, the grand jury listened to the dramatic 911 tapes from Nov. 14, 2007, when Horn called to say two burglars were robbing his neighbor's home. Horn ignored the dispatcher's pleas not to open fire.

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 alright."

Joe Horn: (Shouts to suspects) "Move, you're dead."

Three gunshots can be heard on the tape. Both suspects were shot in the back and were pronounced dead at the scene.

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."

The dead men, Diego Ortiz and Miguel de Jesus, were two illegal immigrants from Colombia. Family and friends wanted to see Horn prosecuted.

"This man took the law into his own hands," Stephanie Storey, De Jesus' fiancée, 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."

Monday's decision ignited a firestorm in Houston on both sides of theissue. Debate raged on local talk radio, on street corners andon blogs. One resident, Keith Sabharwal, said, "That's what I want my neighbor to do; I really don't think he should have gotten into trouble for it."

But another resident, Ronald Elkins, disagreed. "His actions were rash and he did not take into account [what] the consequences of his actions were going to be".

The same debate raged on Timberline Drive, where Horn still lives.

"I think it's a good thing," Diana Null, who lives nearby, said. "I mean, people come in and try to rob us. I mean, we're just protecting our homes."

But Josie Karaze disagrees. "He had no right, and he had been told not to do it."

And law enforcement officials and law experts have been debating the merits of Castle Law since it was passed.

"There's too many imponderables in this law, whereas the previous law was working just fine," said Warren Diepraam, the Harris County Assistant District Attorney, told ABC a few months ago. "Frankly, life is precious."

The critical legal question hinged on whether Horn acted in a reasonable way to defend his neighbor's property.

"You cannot take another person's life in defense of their property unless you're somehow given permission by the other person to protect their property," Diepraam said.

On that 911 call, the dispatcher asked Horn directly about the owners of the house that was being burglarized and whether he knew them.

"I really don't know these neighbors," Horn said. "I know the neighbors on the other side really well … I can assure you if it had been their house, I'd already have done something."

Still, Lambright, Horn attorney told ABC News that his client "absolutely" had his neighbors' permission.

"There's no question about it," he said. "They'd tell you today that they are very happy that he was there and that he was watching out. Every neighbor in the state of Texas watches out for one another."

Reporters Kevin Quinn, Christine Dobbyn and Katisha Cosley from ABC's KTRK-TV in Houston contributed to this story.

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