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Texas justifiable homicides reportedly rise with state's 'stand-your-ground' law

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June 25, 2012: Raul Rodriguez sits in court in the beginning of his trial at Harris County Criminal Courthouse in Houston. Relatives of Rodriguez, who claimed Texas' version of a stand-your-ground law allowed him to fatally shoot a neighbor after an argument about a noisy party, told jurors he was not an abusive person and always stressed the importance of gun safety. He was later sentenced to 40 years for the killing. (AP)

Since Texas expanded its “Castle Doctrine” in 2007 — also known as “Stand Your Ground” law in some states — justifiable killings in the Lone Star state have reportedly increased from 32 in 2006 to 48 in 2010.

A review of FBI data by the Houston Chronicle found that the citizen shootings most often happen after dark and involve a male shooting a handgun during a home invasion. The shooter is most often a minority, as is the person killed, according to the analysis.

Twenty-seven of those deaths in 2010 were in Houston, including that of 24-year-old Benito Pantoja, who was shot and killed with a .357 Colt for $20.29 stolen from a tip jar of a Houston taco truck. Texas law always has allowed deadly force against intruders and thieves to protect lives and property, but where it once required a duty to try to retreat if possible when facing imminent danger, it no longer does, the newspaper reports.

"Traditionally, if you felt your life was threatened, you could use deadly force to protect yourself, except if you could get away safely where nobody got hurt, then you were required to do that," Sandra Thompson, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, told the newspaper. "Even if somebody is just stealing from your front yard, and they are not threatening anybody, (and) there's no threat of being hurt at all, you can kill them, if it's reasonably necessary protecting your property.”

The state’s law and the use of justifiable deadly force was thrust back into the national spotlight last week when retired Texas firefighter Raul Rodriguez, 46, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing his unarmed neighbor, Kelly Danaher, 37, after confronting him about a noisy party. Prosecutors said they’re hopeful the ruling will stop others from trying to use Texas’ version of a stand-your-ground law as a defense.

"I think it sends a clear message that this was not a case of stand-your-ground," said prosecutor Kelli Johnson. "And I think from his behavior, his intent, the provocation ... shows that this had ... nothing to do with self-defense."

Rodriguez, who faced up to life in prison for the 2010 killing, will be eligible for parole in 20 years. His reference to standing his ground was similar to the claim made by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who has cited Florida's stand-your-ground law in his defense in the fatal February shooting of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin.

Texas law, however, goes further than other states in allowing deadly force not only to protect property, but also to stop rape, arson, burglary, robbery, theft at night and criminal mischief at night, the Chronicle reports.

Also last month, a grand jury in Texas' Lavaca County declined to indict the father of a 5-year-old girl who found a man molesting her behind a barn in Shiner and beat him to death, determining he was within his right to use deadly force.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click for more from the Houston Chronicle.

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