James Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, an Austin-based nonprofit group, questioned the father’s decision to “summarily execute” the alleged molester without due process.
“Assuming it’s true that this guy was molesting the daughter, and we don’t know what exactly happened at this point, he would then have the right to defend [her], and hit him enough to have him stop,” Harrington told FoxNews.com. “But you cannot summarily execute him, even though I can understand the anger he would have.”
Without specific knowledge of the case, Harrington said he was “surprised” that the girl’s father had not been already charged.
Harrington continued: “The question is: When does it move beyond self-defense?”
That’s what I was getting at in last night’s post about the difference between self-defense and punishment. Self-defense entitles you to neutralize your attacker; once he’s been neutralized, you’re not really defending yourself anymore, you’re just kicking the crap out of him. Imagine that the dad here saw his daughter being molested and knocked the guy unconscious with one right hook to the jaw. Boom — he’s neutralized. If he continues to beat him after that in a blind rage, that’s more like voluntary manslaughter than self-defense. More from the Christian Post:
“(We’re assuming) that the father sort of struck this fellow in righteous indignation or something,” he said. “Did that last a moment and then the fellow was dead? Or, did he beat him for 30 minutes? There’s a huge difference there. I think the Christian teaching certainly would say he shouldn’t have acted on anger if he had a moment to stop and think about it — he should have been motivated by justice instead. He shouldn’t have let his anger get out of control, if that’s what happened here. I think that’s where the grand jury needs to investigate.”
What makes this case conceivably tricky even under Texas’s otherwise expansive self-defense law is that most uses of deadly force involve a weapon, which can kill with one blow, and not one’s bare hands, which usually can’t. If the father had shot the guy or stabbed him in the chest, the fatal blow would have been the neutralizing blow and therefore textbook self-defense; in this case, the neutralizing blow might well have come before the fatal blow. Self-defense technically only covers you up to the former point.
Then again, that Texas law is awfully expansive. Here’s a bit I left out last night about when juries should presume that the use of deadly force was reasonable:
(b) The actor’s belief … that the deadly force was immediately necessary … is presumed to be reasonable if the actor:
(1) knew or had reason to believe that the person against whom the deadly force was used:
(C) was committing or attempting to commit [sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault];
(2) did not provoke the person against whom the force was used; and
(3) was not otherwise engaged in criminal activity…
In other words, dad’s defense starts with the benefit of the doubt on whether killing the attacker was necessary to stop the attack. Think the local D.A. wants to sink time and effort into trying to overcome that presumption, especially given how unpopular prosecuting this guy would be? To convict him, you’d have to convince a jury that will certainly view this killing as morally justifiable to somehow find it legally unjustifiable, even though there’s plenty of room in the self-defense statute to find dad not guilty. E.g., what if dad claimed that, yes, the first punch appeared to have knocked the attacker out, but he had to hit him several more times to make sure he was unconscious because he feared that the guy had a weapon stashed and would kill him and his daughter when he woke up? That’d be an awfully big stretch, but if the jury’s already inclined to stretch in your direction, it’d probably work, no? Juries are going to do what they want to do most of the time, as long as they have a little wiggle room in the statute to do it. Plenty of wiggle room here.
Here’s an interview that Houston TV did with the little girl’s grandfather. According to him, the girl was “injured and bleeding after the attack,” which, if true, will only make it that much harder to convict her father. Other reports, though, quote the sheriff as saying she was “okay besides the obvious mental trauma.” We’ll have to see how that discrepancy shakes out as more reporting is done. Click the image to watch.