SHINER, Texas – Hearing his 5-year-old daughter crying from behind a barn, a father ran and discovered the unthinkable: A man molesting her. The father pulled the man off his daughter, authorities say, and started pummeling him to death with his fists.
With his daughter finally safe, the father frantically called 911, begging a dispatcher to find his rural ranch and send an ambulance.
"Come on! This guy is going to die on me!" the man is heard screaming on the 911 call. "I don't know what to do!"
A recording of the tape was played during a news conference Tuesday where the Lavaca County district attorney and sheriff announced that the father will not face charges.
In declining to indict the 23-year-old father in the June 9 killing of Jesus Mora Flores, a Lavaca County grand jury reached the same conclusion as investigators and many of the father's neighbors: He was authorized to use deadly force to protect his daughter.
"It's sad a man had to die," said Michael James Veit, 48, who lives across the street from where the attack happened in this small community run on ranching and the Shiner beer brewery. "But I think anybody would have done that."
The family ranch is so remote that on the 911 tape, the father is heard profanely screaming at a dispatcher who couldn't locate the property. At one point, he tells the dispatcher he's going to put the man in his truck and drive him to a hospital.
"He's going to die!" the father screams, swearing at the dispatcher. "He's going to f------ die!"
The tense, nearly five-minute call begins with the father saying he "beat up" a man found raping his daughter. The father grows increasingly frazzled, shouting into the phone so loudly at times that the call often becomes inaudible.
The Associated Press is not identifying the father in order to protect the daughter's identity. The AP generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.
"He's a peaceable soul," V'Anne Huser, the father's attorney, told reporters at the Lavaca County Courthouse. "He had no intention to kill anybody that day."
The attack happened on the family's ranch off a quiet, two-lane county road between the farming towns of Shiner and Yoakum. A statement released by the district attorney said a witness who saw Flores "forcibly carrying" the girl into a secluded area scrambled to find the father. Running toward his daughter's screams, the father pulled Flores off his child and "inflicted several blows to the man's head and neck area," investigators said.
Emergency crews responding to the father's 911 call found Flores' pants and underwear pulled down on his lifeless body. The girl was examined at a hospital, and Lavaca County District Attorney Heather McMinn said forensic evidence and witness accounts corroborated the father's story that his daughter was being sexually molested.
The father was never arrested, but the killing was investigated as a homicide.
Philip Hilder, a Houston criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said he would have been surprised if the grand jury had decided to indict the father. Hilder said Texas law provides several justifications for the use of deadly force, including if someone commits a sexual assault.
"The grand jury was not about to indict this father for protecting his daughter," he said.
Authorities said the family had hired Flores before to help with horses on the ranch. He was not born in the U.S. but was here legally with a green card. Attempts to locate Flores' relatives through public records were unsuccessful.
On Tuesday, a new "No Trespassing" sign was freshly tacked onto a gate barring entrance down a gravelly, shrub-canopied path leading to the barn and chicken coop on the ranch, which belonged to the father's dad.
At the father's house, the front yard could pass for a children's playground: blue pinwheels sunk into patchy grass, an above-ground swimming pool, a swing set, a trampoline and a couple of ropes dangling from a tree for swinging. A partial privacy fence is painted powder blue.
No one answered at the father's home. A few miles away, at a home listed as belonging to the father's sister, a woman shouted through the front door that the family had nothing to say. Huser, the father's attorney, told reporters that neither the father nor anyone else in the family would ever give interviews and asked that they be left alone.
Veit, who lives across the street from the ranch, described the father as easygoing and polite — down to always first asking permission to search Veit's property for animals that had wandered off the ranch, even though the families have long known each other.
Veit's son was a classmate of the father's at Shiner High School in a graduating class of about two dozen. Veit, 48, said the young father was never known to be in trouble.
"Just like a regular kid, went to dances, drank beer like the rest of the kids around here," Veit said.
Shiner, a town of about 2,000 people about 80 miles east of San Antonio, revolves around the Spoetzl Brewery that makes Shiner, one of the nation's best-selling independent beers. Even gas stations here sell it on tap.
Flores' death is only the sixth homicide the Lavaca County Sheriff's Office has investigated in the last eight years. Shiner residents boast their squeaky-clean image on a highway welcome sign: "The Cleanest Little City in Texas."
At Werner's Restaurant, customer Gail Allen said she didn't want to speak for the whole town, though her comments echoed what others said.
"The father has gone through enough," said Allen, 59, who has nine grandchildren. "The little girl is going to be traumatized for life, and the father, too, for what happened. He was protecting his family. Any parent would do that."
Associated Press writer Juan A. Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.
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