Chilling Tape of Texas Homeowner Killing Two Men in Texas Re-Ignites National Debate over the Castle Doctrine and Make My Day Laws

With the conviction of John White in New York for the killing of a teen on his lawn and the possible indictment of Joe Horn in Texas for killing two burglars on his lawn, the national debate over the so-called Castle Doctrine or Make My Day laws is intensifying.

The White case involves the shooting of a white teen by a black homeowner, who insists that he was afraid for himself and his son. When his son returned from a party saying that white teens were chasing him, his father gave him a shotgun and took a handgun and met them on his front lawn. That was a critical mistake since he escalated the threat and did not take any effort to avoid what became a lethal confrontation.

For an earlier entry, click here

The same escalation is blamed for the deaths in Texas. Joe Horn shot two men who had broken into his neighbors home. The transcript of from the police dispatcher certainly make Horn seem eager to shoot the men who crossed onto his lawn despite repeatedly orders from the police dispatcher not to do so. In fact, there was a plainclothes officer who arrived just as Horn was gunning down the men.

I recently discussed these cases on this NPR show. The tape is played at the beginning of the segment.

Here is a partial transcript:

“I’ve got a shotgun . . . Do you want me to stop them?””Nope, don’t do that – ain’t no property worth shooting somebody over, OK?””Hurry up man, catch these guys, will you? ‘Cause I’m ain’t gonna let ’em go, I’m gonna be honest with you, I’m not gonna let ’em go. I’m not gonna let ’em get away with this —-.”

Looking out Horn says he can see them.

“I don’t know if they’re armed or not. I know they got a crowbar ’cause that’s what they broke the windows with. … Man, this is scary, I can’t believe this is happening in this neighborhood.”

As Horn gets more agitated the dispatcher tries to keep him on the phone and asks if he can see the suspects but they had retreated into the target’s house.

“I can go out the front [to look], but if I go out the front I’m bringing my shotgun with me, I swear to God. I am not gonna let ’em get away with this, I can’t take a chance on getting killed over this, OK? I’m gonna shoot, I’m gonna shoot.”

“Stay inside the house and don’t go out there, OK?” the dispatcher responds. “I know you’re pissed off, I know what you’re feeling, but it’s not worth shooting somebody over this, OK?”

“I don’t want to, but I mean if I go out there, you know, to see what the hell is going on, what choice am I gonna have?

“No, I don’t want you to go out there, I just asked if you could see anything out there.”

The dispatcher asks if a vehicle could be seen; Horn said no. The dispatcher tells Horn to stay in the house.

Almost five minutes into the call, police had not arrived.

“I can’t see if [the suspects are] getting away or not,” Horn said.

Horn told the dispatcher that he doesn’t know the neighbors well, unlike those living on the other side of his home. “I can assure you if it had been their house, I would have already done something, because I know them very well,” he said.

Dispatcher: “I want you to listen to me carefully, OK?”

Horn: “Yes?”

Dispatcher: “I got ultras coming out there. I don’t want you to go outside that house. And I don’t want you to have that gun in your hand when those officers are poking around out there.”

Horn: “I understand that, OK, but I have a right to protect myself too, sir, and you understand that. And the laws have been changed in this country since September the First and you know it and I know it.”

Dispatcher: “I understand.”Horn: “I have a right to protect myself …”

Dispatcher: “I’m …”

Horn: “And a shotgun is a legal weapon, it’s not an illegal weapon.”

Dispatcher: “No, it’s not, I’m not saying that, I’m just not wanting you to …”

Horn: “OK, he’s coming out the window right now, I gotta go, buddy. I’m sorry, but he’s coming out the window. ”

Dispatcher: “No, don’t, don’t go out the door, Mister Horn. Mister Horn…”

Horn: “They just stole something, I’m going out to look for ’em, I’m sorry, I ain’t letting them get away with this —-. They stole something, they got a bag of stuff. I’m doing it!”

Dispatcher: “Mister, do not go outside the house.”Horn: “I’m sorry, this ain’t right, buddy.”

Dispatcher: “You gonna get yourself shot if you go outside that house with a gun, I don’t care what you think.”

Horn: “You wanna make a bet?”

Dispatcher: “Stay in the house.”

Horn: “There, one of them’s getting away!

Dispatcher: “That’s alright, property’s not something worth killing someone over. OK? Don’t go out the house, don’t be shooting nobody. I know you’re pissed and you’re frustrated but don’t do it.”

Horn: “They got a bag of loot.”

Dispatcher: “OK. How big is the bag?” . . .

Dispatcher: “Which way are they going?”

Horn: “I can’t … I’m going outside. I’ll find out.”

Dispatcher: “I don’t want you going outside, Mister…”

Horn: “Well, here it goes buddy, you hear the shotgun clicking and I’m going.”

Dispatcher: “Don’t go outside.”

On the tape of the 911 call, the shotgun can be heard being cocked and Horn can be heard going outside and confronting someone.

“Boom! You’re dead!” he shouts. You can clearly hear Horn shoot both men. He then returns to the phone.

“Get the law over here quick. I’ve now, get, one of them’s in the front yard over there, he’s down, he almost run down the street. I had no choice. They came in the front yard with me, man, I had no choice! … Get somebody over here quick, man.”

Dispatcher: “Mister Horn, are you out there right now?”

Horn: “No, I am inside the house, I went back in the house. Man, they come right in my yard, I didn’t know what the — they was gonna do, I shot ’em, OK?”

Dispatcher: “Did you shoot somebody?

Horn: “Yes, I did, the cops are here right now.”

Dispatcher: “Where are you right now?”

Horn: “I’m inside the house. …”

Dispatcher: “Mister Horn, put that gun down before you shoot an officer of mine. I’ve got several officers out there without uniforms on.”

Horn: “I am in the front yard right now. I am …”

Dispatcher: “Put that gun down! There’s officers out there without uniforms on. Do not shoot anybody else, do you understand me? I’ve got police out there…”

Horn: “I understand, I understand. I am out in the front yard waving my hand right now.”

Dispatcher: “You don’t have a gun with you, do you?

Horn: “No, no, no.”

Dispatcher: “You see a uniformed officer? Now lay down on the ground and don’t do nothing else.”You can then hear yelling on the tape.

Dispatcher: “Lay down on the ground, Mister Horn. Do what the officers tell you to do right now.”

The two men that Horn shoot were Miguel Antonio Dejesus, 38, and Diego Ortiz, 30. Both had criminal records and a crowbar was later found by the neighbors. They were shot at only 15 feet.

Local activists have protested Horn home while neighbors have rallied to his defense. The charges of racial animus seem to be far-fetched. After all, Horn was defended the home of his neighbors who were Vietnamese. The most credible charge is that Horn was just itching to drop the hammer and escalated a non-violent situation against the express orders of the police.

Make my day laws are designed to get rid of the duty to retreat in such circumstances, though in this case there was no need to retreat rather than a need not to intervene in deference to the police.

Interestingly, the police dispatcher actually defined the common law rule. The common law does not view any property worth killing over — including a criminal’s life. Thus, a homeowner would have to show self-defense. This privilege allows the use of lethal force so long as it is commensurate and contemporaneous. Thus, you can not escalate a level of violence (though juries cut defendants a great deal of slack on this question) and you cannot retaliate later against a suspect.In some ways, these laws solved a problem that did not exist. Few juries would seriously consider a lawsuit by a home invader that they were treated too roughly by a homeowner. Moreover, what constitutes self-defense is liberally defined by prosecutors.

Around 18 states have such laws, though the number is higher when you consider variations like “Shoot the Carjacker” laws and “Make My Day Better” laws (the latter allowing the use of lethal force to protect businesses and cars). Ironically, these laws more often come into public scrutiny for mistakes when homeowners shoot drunk neighbors or their own family.

The most notorious case involved the shooting of a Japanese student in Baton Rouge. The 16-year-old Japanese exchange student, Yoshihiro Hattori, was looking for a Halloween party and scared the wife of Rodney Peairs when he spoke a strange language and approached the house. Peairs shot him in the chest with a .44 Magnum handgun and was later cleared under a Make My Day law as mistaken defense of his home and self.

As the NPR segment discusses, the Horn and White cases are only two of a number of recent cases involving such use of lethal force.

14 thoughts on “Chilling Tape of Texas Homeowner Killing Two Men in Texas Re-Ignites National Debate over the Castle Doctrine and Make My Day Laws

  1. Even if this guy was doing something that coffee-table philosophers find distasteful, he was morally and legally in his right.

    Why should innocent people stand by and be victimized by these predators? Career criminals who ‘only’ want to rob you or take what you’ve worked hard for?

    Sorry — property is worth killing over. Property represents hard work — blood, sweat and tears — and no one has the right to take that away.

    The dispatcher was wrong. What Mr Horn did was right, even if it may shake the boots of urban incontinents everywhere.

  2. Thank you Mr. Horn for stopping two illegals from ever robbing anybody ever again; something that lame liberal judges and politicians cannot seem to accomplish. Just living in a country south of the border is often WORSE than being in prison in the USA so deciding to come here to commit crime was a no-brainer .. that is until stories of CITIZENS like Horn standing up for his and his neighbor’s property rights get circulated. Hopefully the criminals in Mexico will get ‘the message’ and stay there where they BELONG, (or stay in San Francisco).

  3. Mike M :

    “Thank you Mr. Horn for stopping two illegals from ever robbing anybody ever again; something that lame liberal judges and politicians cannot seem to accomplish.”

    Now please move on to spread your brand of frontier justice to illegal lane changers, jay walkers and the most vile of all, those who would spit upon the roadways and sidewalks of our great (father)land. Woe to the illegals among us. If they do it, shoot them twice–once for the offense and once for being here to work like dogs to feed their families. Mike M would never consider such a move, he would just let them die, or worse yet move them to San Francisco.

  4. Erasmus Rule 1: “Sorry — property is worth killing over. Property represents hard work — blood, sweat and tears — and no one has the right to take that away.”

    Corollary 1: You may only kill over earned property. Inherited property, interest on earned property, and property acquired by rents may not be resisted with deadly force. Post stickers on it to tell the difference.

    Corollary 2: Property that you steal may be protected with deadly force because your worked for it with blood, sweat and tears. Therefore if you are caught stealing the property of someone else, kill everyone around because YOU HAVE EARNED IT.

    Is that about right oh philosopher from the nut house?

  5. Murder hidden by a flimsy excuse has a way of keeping people away. Including home buyers. And investors. And businesses. Curious.

    Unless they are IN the house, castle laws are a garbage defense. If they get in or do something to try and drive you out like setting the house on fire, sure, shoot ’em up, but running after them isn’t defense. It’s murder, pure and simple. It doesn’t take an analytical genius to piece that one together. But it is Texas after all. Bloodthirsty and stupid is what the state excels at.

  6. Erasmus:

    go read an essay by Thomas Bowden on the Horn break in, as someone who likes objectivism I was surprised by his essay. He was basically against the shootings for the legal reason that Mr. Horn did not appear to be in any danger as evidenced by his dialog with the dispatcher.

    I dont know how I feel about this type of thing, I believe in gun rights, I think we all ought to have fully automatic weapons under our beds and a couple of thousand rounds of ammunition to go with them if we want. We all also ought to be trained in the safe use and handling of these weapons.

    I think on the whole that you cannot go around shooting someone willy nilly because they broke into your house. I think you should ask them to leave and call the police. If they do not, then bring out the shotgun and ask them again, if they do not, ask them to get on the floor, if they do not, fire a warning shot into the floor or ceiling. Finally if you must shoot, then shoot them in the leg or arm and call the ambulance immediately.

    For the typical criminal I should think the “universal” sound of a shotgun having a shell set into the chamber would be enough for them to leave.

  7. Bron,

    You realize that “safe use” and having “fully automatic weapons under our beds and a couple of thousand rounds of ammunition to go with them if we want,” are pretty much incompatible right?

  8. Gyges:

    no they are not incompatible, why do you think they are?

    If the weapon is not loaded how is it unsafe? Guns are inanimate objects lacking in free will or any other kind of will.
    they will sit for a thousand years and not harm anyone (loaded or not).

    I have shot automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapons before and they dont seem to me to be any more dangerous than a colonial muzzle loader of which I have shot a facsimile. A little more muzzle energy perhaps.

    I am interested in why you think a gun cannot be used safely by someone that is properly traind to use one? The NRA and other organizations have good training programs and many of the instructors have been in the military and law enforcement.

    Personally I think congress over reached with the 1934 act banning the sale of automatic weapons. the court should have judged it to be unconstitutional under the 2nd amendment. I dont know for a fact but intuition tells me that had the founders had access to automatic weapons the minute men would have had them.

  9. Bron,

    First, no need to lecture me on responsible gun owners; I am one, I shoot\hunt regularly. I have a 30.06 that’s my hunting rifle, and I also have a little single shot .22 I keep around for sentimental reasons, and because I really enjoy shooting it. I’m well aware of the fact that guns are a tool, and not inherently good or bad.

    The reason I said that the two were incompatible was because I read “fully automatic weapons under our beds and a couple of thousand rounds of ammunition to go with them if we want,” to mean that the ammo and the gun are both under the bed, and I suspect most other people do too. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain why that’s not safe use.

    The current SCOTUS ruling on the Second amendment allows “reasonable restrictions” on gun ownership. I think banning automatic weapons in heavily populated areas is perfectly reasonable.

  10. Gyges:

    if guns are neither good or bad what does it matter where the ammo is stored? Ok store them both in a gun safe. I store my rifles in my closet with the bolts in another part of the house and my ammunition in ammo boxes in the closet. The rifles cannot be used unless the bolts are in place.

    Why ban them in populated areas? A rational person is going to go to a shooting range or an unpopulated area to shoot. We should ban certain people judged mentally incompetent from owning guns. Its the actor not the object that causes problems. If I am a nut case I can take my car and kill a bunch of people on a crowded street as easily as if I used an automatic rifle.

    Why is it that people worry so much about gun safety and not swimming pool safety? According to my search there were 3,500 accidental drownings in the US vs about 700 accidental firearm deaths. Granted swimming pools are generally not used in armed robberies. But the I think the point is valid.

  11. You people that think he had a right to go outside, out of his way to put himself in “harms way” then kill two people are delusional.

    What is to stop someone from “creating” the same situation and gunning your ignorant asses down anytime they want?

    Nothing is.

    I hope you don’t ever have to experience that one day, though it would be karma if ya did.

    If you dumb hicks want to go back to the wild wild west feel free to secede, make that moron Perry your President. Good luck with that.

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