HOUSTON – Relatives of a man 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 Monday he was not an abusive person and always stressed the importance of gun safety.
Raul Rodriguez, 46, faces up to life in prison for the 2010 killing of Kelly Danaher.
Rodriguez, a retired Houston-area firefighter, was angry about the noise coming from a birthday party at his neighbor's home. He went over and got into an argument with Danaher, a 36-year-old elementary school teacher, and two other men who were at the party.
In a 22-minute video he recorded the night of the shooting, Rodriguez can be heard telling a police dispatcher "my life is in danger now" and "these people are going to go try and kill me." He then said, "I'm standing my ground here," and shot Danaher. The two other men were wounded.
Rodriguez's reference to standing his ground is similar to the claim made by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who is citing Florida's stand-your-ground law in his defense in the fatal February shooting of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. Rodriguez's case, however, was decided under a different kind of self-defense doctrine.
Eleven witnesses, mostly family members, testified Monday on behalf of Rodriguez as the punishment phase of his trial resumed after a more than week-long delay due to scheduling conflicts. Defense attorneys expected to present several more witnesses Tuesday before wrapping up.
It was the first time jurors heard anyone testify for Rodriguez as defense attorneys did not present any witnesses before he was convicted June 13.
James Coleman, one of Rodriguez's stepsons, testified he had a good relationship with his stepfather.
"He was strict but he was fair with us. He was never abusive to us," he said. Several prosecution witnesses had testified that they saw Rodriguez hit his children, including one incident in 2008 where he got into a fight with his biological son Richard Rodriguez.
Richard Rodriguez told jurors that he started the fight, took the first punch and later regretted the incident.
"I love my father," Richard Rodriguez, 24, said as his father cried at the defense table. Rodriguez also has three other biological children and another stepson, Austin Coleman.
James Coleman, 20, said Rodriguez would reread his safety manual after getting his concealed handgun license in 2008 and that his stepfather taught his children to respect weapons.
While several prosecution witnesses told jurors Rodriguez intimidated neighbors by showing them his handgun, Austin Coleman, 16, testified he never saw his stepfather show off his handguns while out in public.
Richard Rodriguez said his father owned a few rifles and five or six pistols but wouldn't describe him as a gun fanatic.
Prosecution witnesses, including former co-workers and neighbors, have told jurors during the punishment phase that Rodriguez was abusive, a bad neighbor and once shot a dog.
Rodriguez's 18-year-old son, Daniel Rodriguez, told jurors Monday that his father shot an aggressive dog after it wandered on their property and threatened them.
Prosecutors called Rodriguez the aggressor who took a gun to complain about loud music and could have safely left his neighbor's driveway in Huffman, an unincorporated area about 30 miles northeast of Houston, any time before the shooting. Defense attorneys argued Rodriguez was defending himself when one of the men lunged at him and he had less than a second to respond.
Texas' version of a stand-your-ground law is known as the Castle Doctrine. It was revised in 2007 to expand the right to use deadly force. The new version allows people to defend themselves in their homes, workplaces or vehicles. It also says a person using force cannot provoke the attacker or be involved in criminal activity at the time. Legal experts say the expansion in general gave people wider latitude on the use of deadly force.