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In Texas, 'stand your ground' case leads to murder conviction

June 14, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Raul Rodriguez, right, stands with his attorney, Bill Stradley, as he is found guilty of killing Kelly Danaher.
Raul Rodriguez, right, stands with his attorney, Bill Stradley, as he is… (Brett Coomer / Associated…)

HOUSTON -- A retired Houston-area firefighter could face life in prison after a jury convicted him Wednesday of murder in the shooting of an unarmed neighbor, rejecting his "stand your ground" defense.

The trial's punishment phase is scheduled to begin Thursday.

During the trial, Raul Rodriguez, 47, argued that he was protected under Texas' self-defense law when he killed neighbor Kelly Danaher two years ago.

Rodriguez, angry about a noisy birthday party at Danaher's home, went over to his neighbor's house, according to testimony and court documents. He got into an argument with Danaher, a 36-year-old elementary school teacher, and two other men at the party.

Rodriguez’s attorneys did not present any witnesses in his defense. But in a 22-minute video Rodriguez recorded the night of the shooting, he 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 after somebody appeared to grab his camera.

The case is among the first to test a "stand your ground" defense in the wake of the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. In that case, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who has admitted shooting the unarmed teenager, has cited Florida's "stand your ground" law in his defense.

But "stand your ground" laws vary from state to state, and Rodriguez's case was decided under a different type of self-defense law than Florida's.

Texas' Castle Doctrine, revised in 2007, allows people to defend not only their homes with deadly force, but their workplaces and vehicles. Under the law, a person using force to defend himself or herself can't provoke their attacker or be involved in criminal activity.

Prosecutors argued that Rodriguez couldn’t cite the law in his defense because he provoked the confrontation at the party and attacked someone who was unarmed, which is a crime.

Defense attorney Neal Davis said he doesn't believe his client did anything illegal. He said Rodriguez didn't wield his gun until he was outside Danaher's house and his neighbor approached him in the street.

"He was not provoking anybody. He was not engaged in any criminal activity. The law is not only for home invasions. That's why the law was changed," Davis said, according to the Associated Press.

Prosecutors disagreed, arguing that Rodriguez lured and bullied his victim.

"Self-defense was never meant to protect the one who started the fight," prosecutor Donna Logan told the jury, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Jurors deliberated for about five hours before reaching a verdict Wednesday.

The attorneys involved were in court Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

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Join Molly on Google+ and Twitter @mollyhf. Email: molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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