A Texas prosecutor said the case of a rancher who beat to death a man he caught allegedly molesting his daughter will go to a grand jury to decide whether the killing was justified, or an act of excessive force.
The father, whose name has not been released by authorities, claims he caught the man trying to molest his 4-year-old daughter on his ranch Saturday. Although Lavaca County Sheriff Micah Harmon said the girl’s father is unlikely to be arrested, District Attorney Heather McMinn told FoxNews.com the case remains under investigation and that the Texas Rangers have joined the probe.
“Once completed, [results of the investigation] will be forwarded to the district attorney’s office and it will be taken to a grand jury,” McMinn told FoxNews.com. “They’re still investigating what happened at this point.”
The grand jury will ultimately decide what charges -- if any -- the girl’s father will face, McMinn said.
Relatives of the 47-year-old dead man -- who is from Gonzales and does not appear to have a criminal record -- had not been located as of Tuesday, McMinn said. His name will not be released until those relatives are found, she said.
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“My understanding is that they are looking for family members in Mexico,” McMinn said.
Harmon, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, said earlier that no evidence has led investigators to doubt the father’s account, he said.
“There doesn’t appear to be any reason other than what he told us,” Harmon said.
The victim was an “acquaintance” of the father who visited the ranch to help care for some horses, according to Harmon, adding he did not know how long the men may have known each other prior to the alleged incident.
The girl’s father notified police late Saturday afternoon that he attacked a man he caught attempting to sexually assault his daughter near a barn where horses were kept, Harmon said.
“In the course of trying to get her away from him, and protect her, he struck the subject several times in the head and the subject died,” Harmon said.
The girl was taken to a hospital to be examined and was later released, Harmon said. The victim's body was taken to the Travis County medical examiner's office for an autopsy. Authorities are still awaiting those results, McMinn said.
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?”
Meanwhile, several residents of the small town of roughly 2,000 about 130 miles west of Houston said they supported the father’s actions.
“He got what he deserved, big time,” Shiner native Sonny Jaehne told the Victoria Advocate newspaper.
Along with Jaehne, Mark Harabis was among a handful of people at a local convenience store on Sunday who discussed the killing.
“I agree with him totally,” Harabis told the newspaper. “I would probably do worse. The family will have to deal with that the rest of their lives, no matter what happens to the father. Even if they let him go, he and his child will have to deal with that the rest of their lives.”
The owner of Howard’s convenience store said the killing was a hot topic throughout the weekend.
“Everybody wants to know who it is,” owner Howard Gloor told the newspaper. “Everybody’s very curious about it. A lot of people have said that he got what he had coming to him. That’s been the consensus. They’ve been supportive of doing what needed to be done to take care of the problem.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.