A Texas man convicted of shooting and killing his unarmed neighbor during a dispute over loud music received a 40-year prison sentence on Wednesday.
Raul Rodriguez, 47, faced a minimum of five years and a maximum of life in prison. He claimed he shot schoolteacher Kelly Danaher in self-defense under Texas' version of the "stand your ground" law.
But prosecutors argued Rodriguez provoked the incident by confronting Danaher, 36, and his friends with a handgun and demanding they quiet down at a late-night birthday party in May 2010.
The Houston case captured more attention in the wake of Trayvon Martin's death in Florida. There, George Zimmerman says he was being attacked and cited the state's "stand your ground" law after shooting the unarmed teen. But prosecutors charged him with second-degree murder.
Two dozen states reportedly now allow citizens to stand their ground even outside their home. The specifics vary by state, but generally justify a person not retreating and using deadly force when a threat is perceived.
As in Florida, Texas law includes public areas, "if a person has a right to be present at a location where force is used."
But veteran attorney Andy Drumheller told Yahoo News that the Houston jury appeared to draw a line with Rodriguez leaving his home and going down the street.
"The law is not designed to create this bubble that you can carry with you everywhere you go," said Drumheller, a former prosecutor now practicing criminal defense in Houston. "The jury's verdict is a cautionary statement on the limits of this defense."
The Rodriguez case is also unique because the former firefighter was recording video during much of the ordeal.
Rodriguez, who had been calling police about the loud party, dialed 911 again as both sides shouted at each other near Danaher's dark driveway.
"Tell you what, pal, you just pulled a gun on the wrong [expletive], OK?" one of the partygoers is heard telling Rodriguez on the home video.
Seconds later the partygoer warns, "When I go in that house and I come back, don't think I won't be equal to you, baby."
Rodriguez, who told police he suspected the men were drunk, tells the 911 operator that he's scared and will defend himself, if needed.
"I don't want to do this, and it all started over them playing their music real loud … it's about to get out of hand, Sir. Please help me. "
Seconds later, he says, "I'm standing my ground here, now these people are going to try and kill me."
The video is dark when Danaher and two other men apparently lunged toward him, laughing loudly. Rodriguez fired his gun, killing Danaher and injuring two others.
In lobbying jurors for a lenient sentence, defense attorney Bill Stradley blamed the tragedy on his client's misunderstanding of the state's "stand your ground" law. Something he predicts will happen with other Texas gun owners in the future.
"And they will find themselves, like Raul Rodriguez, charged with murder," said Stradley, according to the Houston Chronicle.
"Raul believed he had a right to be where he was. But he had two seconds to make that call, to pull that trigger."
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