HOUSTON – A Texas man who shot and killed two men he suspected of burglarizing his neighbor's home was cleared in the shootings Monday by a grand jury.
Joe Horn, 62, shot the two men in November after he saw them crawling out the windows of a neighbor's house in the Houston suburb of Pasadena.
Horn called authorities and told the emergency dispatcher he had a shotgun and was going to kill the men. The dispatcher pleaded with him not to go outside, but Horn confronted the men with a 12-gauge shotgun and shot both in the back.
"The message we're trying to send today is the criminal justice system works," Harris County District Attorney Kenneth Magidson said.
Horn's attorney, Tom Lambright, said his client was relieved by the grand jury's decision and never wanted to hurt anyone.
"He wasn't trying to take matters into his own hands," Lambright said. "He was scared. He was not playing cowboy."
Horn did not speak with reporters Monday, and had a "No Trespass" sign blocking the path to the front door of his home.
Lambright said Horn believed the two men had broken into his neighbor's home and that he shot them out of fear for his life when they came into his yard and threatened him.
"He wasn't acting like a vigilante," Lambright said. "He was well within his rights to do what he was doing."
The men Horn killed, Hernando Riascos Torres, 38, and Diego Ortiz, 30, were unemployed illegal immigrants from Colombia. Torres was deported to Colombia in 1999 after a 1994 cocaine-related conviction.
The episode touched off protests from civil rights activists who said the shooting was racially motivated and that Horn took the law into his own hands. Horn's supporters defended his actions, saying he was protecting himself and being a good neighbor to a homeowner who was out of town.
"I understand the concerns of some in the community regarding Mr. Horn's conduct," Magidson said. "The use of deadly force is carefully limited in Texas law to certain circumstances ... In this case, however, the grand jury concluded that Mr. Horn's use of deadly force did not rise to a criminal offense."
Lambright did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment from The Associated Press.
Texas law allows people to use deadly force to protect themselves if it is reasonable to believe they are in mortal danger. In limited circumstances, people also can use deadly force to protect a neighbor's property; for example, if a homeowner asks a neighbor to watch over his property while he's out of town.
It is not clear whether the neighbor whose home was burglarized asked Horn to watch over his house.