A fascinating case. Imagine this: A man and his two boys are pushing their car along a road, just 100 yards or so from their home, after it runs out of gas. Another car comes barreling along and smashes into the rear of their vehicle, crushing one of the kids instantly and throwing the other far enough that he later dies from his injuries. The driver, who turns out to have been drunk, is unconscious at the scene in the driver’s seat. When the cops arrive a short time later, he has a bullet in his head. More from the Houston Chronicle:
Two of the witnesses, William Taylor Duncan, 17, and Landon Lain, 18, testified they saw the crash while driving home together that night. They pulled over when flagged down for help by a man saying his son had been hit.
“(He said) ‘Call the police, my kid has been hit, make sure they don’t leave,'” Duncan told jurors. He said he believed the man was referring to any occupants in the Malibu…
Each teen told jurors the man who flagged them down, asking them to help his children, was not at the crash site for about three minutes. They say he later returned and approached the Malibu.
The teens testified they later heard a gunshot, but neither say they saw anyone with a weapon.
A woman came upon the accident scene and saw a man who appeared “angry,” although she couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) identify him as the boys’ father. A cousin of the drunk driver later claimed that he saw the boys’ father punch the driver through the window of his car. The defense showed at trial that the driver’s window was intact and rolled up when the police got there, but the prosecution countered that the father might have simply opened the driver’s door and punched him that way instead. The gun was never found and no gunshot residue was discovered on the father’s hands, but if he didn’t do it, evidently some random stranger stopped at the scene of a horrible accident, casually murdered the driver by shooting him in the head, and then went on his merry way. Verdict: Not guilty.
I think that’s the right call given the lack of direct evidence and the high bar of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but c’mon. The father is the only person with means, motive, and opportunity here, right? The idea of a stranger swinging by an accident to execute a victim in the small window of time between the crash and the moment police show up is ridiculous. (If that’s what happened, why weren’t the boys shot too?) I have just one question: Why did they try him at all? Prosecutors knew the jury would be on his side and they knew, I assume, that there was no smoking gun. They’re naturally concerned about being seen as endorsing vigilantism, but the facts of the case are so bizarre as to make copycats irrelevant. The thinking, I guess, was that they might get a jury to compromise on second-degree murder: Under Texas law, if you can show that you killed intentionally but due to “sudden passion,” the crime is reduced from a first-degree offense. Even there, though, how likely was it that a jury was going to make this guy do hard time after he watched his kids get run over by a man who, it turned out, had broken the law in getting behind the wheel drunk? The jury’s impulse was, inevitably, going to be that the poor dad had suffered enough and that the “sentence” he imposed on the driver wasn’t unduly strict for having run over two little kids. Seems like a fool’s errand, but I guess the D.A. had to try.