Carruth is a land developer and the house may be both his home and his office. Read’s widow, Jennifer, alleges that he and Christina Read plan to get married once his divorce is finalized (The widow is seeking custody of her two step sons and saying that the relationship is harmful to the boys since they know that Carruth shot by their father when he was trying to see them).
The videotapes show Carruth ordering Read off his property as Read demands to see his son. Chad Read can be heard saying “I don’t care if you wanted to see him or not. I get him at 3:15 p.m. If you want to see him, you see him up until 3:15. You keep trying to keep my son from me.” He then threatens to subpoena multiple people, including Judge Carruth.
As the couple argues about the court order, Carruth goes back into the house and retrieves his rifle. That is when things rapidly escalate.
Carruth can be said “I’m glad this is on video, I’m very glad.”
Carruth keeps the gun pointed at the ground as the two men bump chests and Read dares him to use the weapon.
Read says “Do it. You better f*cking use it, motherf*cker.”
Carruth then fired a shot at the ground near Read’s feet, and Read grabbed the barrel of the rifle and pushed away. Carruth then moved back a few steps and immediately fired twice at Read who collapses in front of the house. Just before he is fatally shot, Read can be heard saying “Think I’m f*cking scared?”
Immediately after her husband is shot, Jennifer Read remains remarkably focused assigning responsibility as opposed to Chad Read who is now lying dead in front of the house. She is heard saying “You did it, not him.”
Kyle responds, telling her “I told all of y’all to leave. None of you all should be here. I asked you to leave. I did everything … I did not want to do any of this.”
There are two videos in evidence: one taken from the house and one taken from the truck by the current wife of Chad Read.
Carruth from House Video
Carruth from Truck Video
As a threshold matter, it does seem like this tragedy could have been avoided if Carruth had just called police and not escalated the encounter. Read was unarmed and has no criminal record. He remained six feet from his ex-wife during their altercation.
Yet, the question is not what Carruth “should” have done but what he is legally required to do.
The common law protects not just self-defense but mistaken self-defense where a person may have erroneously (but reasonably) thought that he was under attack. The common law has always recognized the right to stand your ground and did not require a person to retreat before using force.
The Texas SYG law states in part:
Sec. 9.32. DEADLY FORCE IN DEFENSE OF PERSON. (a) A person is justified in using deadly force against another:
(1) if the actor would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.31; and
(2) when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:
(A) to protect the actor against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful deadly force; or
(B) to prevent the other’s imminent commission of aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery.
Under this law, Carruth is not required to retreat or avoid the confrontation, but still must show a reasonable belief that deadly force is immediately necessary. Carruth is likely to argue that, when Read grabbed his weapon, he was acting to stop the “attempted use of unlawful deadly force.” He will use Read’s threat that “You better f*cking use it, motherf*cker” as further supporting his view that he was being threatened.
However, those words are commonly used in anger and could be viewed as standard bravado or defiance to the threat presented by Carruth. While the videos are not entirely clear, it does not appear that, after pushing him away, Read was charging or moving toward Carruth. Carruth still was the only person with a weapon at the scene.
Read notably kept his arms rigidly by his side through much of the encounter. The chest bump could be cited by Carruth as assault or, at least, a physical escalation justifying his firing of a warning shot.
Under Texas Penal Code § 9.31, a person is allowed to use deadly force in their homes to repel intruders. The law requires that the use of force is “reasonable.” However, it is reasonable if there is unlawful and forceful entry or attempted entry. It can also be based on an attempt to remove the actor from the home. Moreover, he could claim that Read was attempting to take his weapon (though Read’s estate can claim that this was an act of self-defense).
The use of the Castle doctrine would be based on the claim that the struggle, while not in the home, was within the “curtilage,” the area immediately around a home. The curtilage is often discussed in search and seizure cases under the Fourth Amendment. The area of the struggle would be within that area. However, Carruth then drops back from the front of the door and a court may have to decide if position of the shooting was within the curtilage. Again, it is likely within that area.
Nevertheless, there are other possible problems in applying the law. To use the law, you must show that you did not “provoke the person against whom the force was used.” Carruth can claim (correctly) that he has every right to brandish a weapon, even if many of us believe it was ill-advised and provocative. It was Read who approached him. Yet, it was Carruth who first fired a shot at Read’s feet — triggering the response from Read. This can be the ultimate jury question.
Moreover, the law expressly says that it is not to be used for “verbal provocations.” The encounter with Read (before Carruth pulled out a gun) was a purely verbal provocation. However, it then escalated. Again, Carruth had a right to brandish his weapon. When Read grabbed the gun, it was no longer a verbal confrontation.
This is not an open-and-shut case but Carruth has cognizable defense claims. I say that even though I have little sympathy for him. I do not see the need to use lethal force in this circumstance. He had separation and he had the gun. He could have waited. Instead, he immediately fired the rounds. Indeed, I do believe that he escalated the situation unnecessarily and that this death could have been avoided by simply waiting for the police. Moreover, his relationship with the ex-wife creates concerns over his motivation in using force. That is similar to a prior case we discussed where a Montana man was accused of luring the enraged lover of his wife into a garage and then shooting him. (He was cleared under the state Castle doctrine law).
Castle doctrine cases often raise concerns over enabling the wrong people; empowering those who are predisposed to the use of force as in the infamous case of Tom Horn in Texas.
On all of these different defenses, Carruth will argue that he was fully within his rights in coming outside of his house and demanding that Read get off his property. He did not point the weapon at Read until the physical struggle. The question then becomes that, once he gains separation, was it justified to fire the two rounds killing Read. That will have to be based on the fear that Read was intent on disarming him and taking his weapon.
There is still no decision on whether Carruth will face charges. There is already a civil lawsuit filed by the widow of Read.
Here is the Castle doctrine law;
(a) Except as provided in Subsection (b), a person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force. The actor’s belief that the force was immediately necessary as described by this subsection is presumed to be reasonable if the actor:
(1) knew or had reason to believe that the person against whom the force was used:
(A) unlawfully and with force entered, or was attempting to enter unlawfully and with force, the actor’s occupied habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment;
(B) unlawfully and with force removed, or was attempting to remove unlawfully and with force, the actor from the actor’s habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment; or
(C) was committing or attempting to commit aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery;
(2) did not provoke the person against whom the force was used; and
(3) was not otherwise engaged in criminal activity, other than a Class C misdemeanor that is a violation of a law or ordinance regulating traffic at the time the force was used.
(b) The use of force against another is not justified:
(1) in response to verbal provocation alone;
(2) to resist an arrest or search that the actor knows is being made by a peace officer, or by a person acting in a peace officer’s presence and at his direction, even though the arrest or search is unlawful, unless the resistance is justified under Subsection (c);
(3) if the actor consented to the exact force used or attempted by the other;
(4) if the actor provoked the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force, unless:
(A) the actor abandons the encounter, or clearly communicates to the other his intent to do so reasonably believing he cannot safely abandon the encounter; and
(B) the other nevertheless continues or attempts to use unlawful force against the actor; or
(5) if the actor sought an explanation from or discussion with the other person concerning the actor’s differences with the other person while the actor was:
(A) carrying a weapon in violation of Section 46.02 ; or
(B) possessing or transporting a weapon in violation of Section 46.05 .
(c) The use of force to resist an arrest or search is justified:
(1) if, before the actor offers any resistance, the peace officer (or person acting at his direction) uses or attempts to use greater force than necessary to make the arrest or search; and
(2) when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the peace officer’s (or other person’s) use or attempted use of greater force than necessary.
(e) A person who has a right to be present at the location where the force is used, who has not provoked the person against whom the force is used, and who is not engaged in criminal activity at the time the force is used is not required to retreat before using force as described by this section.
(f) For purposes of Subsection (a), in determining whether an actor described by Subsection (e) reasonably believed that the use of force was necessary, a finder of fact may not consider whether the actor failed to retreat.