After a night of watching nothing but The Weather Channel, the wife and I retired to bed. We were getting a nice breeze at our house just north of Austin, so we had all the windows open. Our wooden blinds occasionally clattered against screens and panes, mimicking screams of pain, but we slept soundly, as we often do during times of “weather”.
That is, until the phone rang at 2am.
The so-called castle doctrine was enacted as a state law in March of 2007. Gone were the days of following this adage: if you shoot someone breaking into your house, make sure he falls inside – not outside. Also, the person protecting his own property no longer had to make an effort to flee before using deadly force. This is why, in some circles, this bill is also known as the “make my day” law.
The law also provides “civil immunity for a person who lawfully uses deadly force” as long as that person meets all the criteria of the bill. Basically, as long as the defender is not engaged in illegal activity at the time, and the “intruder” is not someone with a legal right to be there (i.e. law enforcement), then it is a justified killing.
My wife heard the phone before I did. She was already out the bedroom door before I started to get out of bed. A phone call at 2am is never a good thing, especially when The Boy is out of town visiting his dad and other family members are hunkered down in Houston, playing the role of Tina Turner as Hurricane Ike delivered blow after blow. I feared the worst.
“Just calm down” was repeated over and over into the phone. Finally, hearing only her side of the conversation, I deduced what had happened and immediately Googled Texas law. That is how I got indoctrinated to the doctrine. Relief poured through me as I relayed the information I had found to her. She then spoke the same over the phone.
The cops arrived at the Houston house at that time and the conversation ended. All we knew was that the body was in the driveway and that our family member was being taken in for questioning. I knew what I had read bode well for the family, but I would be lying if I said that I slept soundly after the call.
The first time this law was really put to the test happened in Pasadena, an eastern suburb of Houston. What made this case so extraordinary was that it was a neighbor, in his 70s, who shot burglars at the house next door – despite pleas from the 911 operator.
He was exonerated.
It was close to 4am now. I had slept fitfully, the rattling of the blinds no longer a memento of the cooling breeze but rather a Brinks security system placebo. One particularly large gust startled me awake and left me wondering if our dog would even hear an intruder over all the noise that the wind was creating.
It was at that time that my wife woke up screaming. She saw someone in the doorway to our room – but not really. I calmed her, telling her everything was ok, knowing that she was just having the same dreams I was having.
And then the phone rang.
The family member was already home from his police station visit. The man he shot in his living room was packing a gun, so it was a good thing that he followed him outside to finish the deal. The deceased also had a “rap sheet” two pages long. The officers said that the right thing was done, as looting was already going on in downtown Houston.
The thing that shocked me, however, was that they sent him home with his gun. Their reasoning?
“You might need it again.”