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'Stand your ground' defense fails in Texas case. Lessons for George Zimmerman?

A conviction in Texas Wednesday shows that not all defenses built on stand-your-ground laws are successful. George Zimmerman has invoked the defense in the Trayvon Martin case. 


Raul Rodriguez (r.) stands with his attorney Bill Stradley Wednesday in Houston as he is found guilty of killing Kelly Danaher.

Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle/AP

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As he confronted several neighbors over a loud stereo two years ago, retired Houston-area firefighter Raul Rodriguez brandished a gun and warned, “I am standing my ground here” – a warning that was picked up by the camera he had set up to film the scene.

As the camera was knocked to the ground, a barrage of gunfire ensued, as Mr. Rodriguez killed Kelly Danaher, an unarmed elementary school teacher, and wounded two other unarmed men.

On its face, the scenario appears, as Rodriguez apparently realized, a classic example of a "stand your ground" defense. In all, 33 states – including Texas – have stand-your-ground laws that say a victim of a potentially deadly attack has no obligation to retreat, but can use lethal force in defense.

Yet on Wednesday, a jury in Houston took five hours to find Rodriguez guilty of murder, dismissing the stand-your-ground defense on a simple point: If Rodriguez had not provoked the fight and brandished the weapon first, it’s unlikely anyone would have been killed.

"This is not what stand your ground is," said Kelli Johnson, the prosecutor. 

In all the states that have passed some version of stand your ground since Florida’s landmark law in 2005, defendants can’t claim the “no duty to retreat” protection if they’re in the commission of a crime or if they initiate the confrontation.

Now, as stand-your-ground laws are scrutinized in the wake of George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, with critics claiming that the laws turn shooters into judge, jury, and executioner, the Texas case offers an example of the law's limits.


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