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Many debate right of neighbor to shoot, kill burglary suspects.

Byline: Miguel Bustillo Los Angeles Times

PASADENA, Texas - When he saw two men pry into his neighbor's house with a crowbar earlier this month, Joe Horn did what many people would do: He called 911.

But when police had not shown up by the time the suspects were about to leave, the 61-year-old retiree did something most people probably would not: He put down the phone, stepped outside with his shotgun and killed them.

"I'm not going to let them get away with this," Horn told the 911 dispatcher, who responded: "Property's not worth killing someone over."

Seconds later, the sound of a gun being loaded was captured on the 911 tape, followed by the warning: "Move (and) you're dead" and then three bursts of gunfire. Miguel DeJesus, 38, and Diego Ortiz, 30, died from their wounds. Both had small-time criminal histories.

Recording captures actions

The recording of Horn's anger, frustration and eagerness to take the law into his own hands has made him the focus of a national controversy. Critics condemn him as a vigilante bent on meting out murderous justice. Admirers praise him as a courageous hero whom any law abider would love to have next door.

"Why is he still a free man?" Linda Edwards wrote in a letter to The Houston Chronicle.

"Joe Horn gets a Texas `attaboy' from me," countered John Meagher in the next letter on the page, adding: "Justice was served, law or not."

As the debate rages on talk radio and cable news shows, Horn remains free. However, according to his attorney, he is so overwrought with grief and overwhelmed by the media glare that he's left his home in this blue-collar Houston suburb.

"Joe has never been anything but a gentle person. He's not the type of monster that they are making him out to be," attorney Tom Lambright said in an interview with Houston radio host Michael Berry, who was playing a spoof of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" called "I Shot the Burglar."

Grand jury to decide

Authorities are still investigating what happened Nov. 14, but they plan to let a Harris County grand jury decide whether Horn, a former computer consultant, should be charged with any crimes.

"This is not an individual who stepped outside and gunned down two pedestrians on the sidewalk," said Pasadena police Capt. A.H. "Bud" Corbett. "In a situation where there is some uncertainty about which side of the law someone was on, the best thing to do is assemble all the information and present it to the grand jury."

Noting Texans' prevailing populist views on guns and self-defense - and the sharply mixed reaction to what Horn did - legal experts differ over whether a jury of his peers would ever indict him.

They also differ on whether one should, given a Texas law known as the "castle doctrine" that permits citizens to use deadly force to defend their homes and cars.

In the shoes of the owner

Tommy LaFon, a Houston defense attorney and former prosecutor who has argued about 50 disputed shooting cases before grand juries, said Horn's lawyers may be able to claim that his actions were legal because he was acting as the de facto defender of his neighbor's property.

"He's not drunk at a bar somewhere, he's a guy who intercedes in a situation next door," LaFon said. "If a jury believes he was standing in the shoes of the owner, that might affect their decision."

Police caution that although the 911 recording makes for provocative discussion, it fails to answer many questions they must try to answer. Was Horn still on his property when he fired or had he ventured into the neighbor's yard? Were the suspects coming at him? Did he feel threatened?

Critics of the way the case has been handled disagree, saying the 911 tape is proof that Horn was predetermined to shoot the robbers before stepping outside with his gun.

Noting that Horn is white and the suspects were dark-skinned, Quanell X, Houston's outspoken community activist, accused authorities of bias. Horn clearly should be charged with murder, he said.

"Mr. Horn did not have to kill those people," Quanell X said during a protest on the leafy street where the retiree fired his shots. "Mr. Horn became judge, jury and executioner."
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Title Annotation:Wire National; A 61-year-old retiree's actions are scrutinized by authorities, public
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 26, 2007
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