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Commentary: Was burglary worth killing 2 men?

  • Story Highlights
  • Texan won't be indicted in shooting of suspected burglars
  • Martin notes that many are cheering the Texas decision
  • But the deaths deserve more serious consideration, he says
  • Martin asks: Would you shoot 2 men to protect your neighbor's property?
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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Roland Martin says a Texas man who killed 2 suspected burglars made the wrong choice.

Roland Martin says a Texas man who killed 2 suspected burglars made the wrong choice.

(CNN) -- Joe Horn may be praised by gun enthusiasts and thrill seekers as a no-nonsense guy who got fed up with crime in America by pulling out his shotgun and blasting two men to their deaths, but there is no doubt the Texas man will be haunted by his fatal decision.

Ever since the suburban Houston man saw two burglars crawling out his neighbor's window on November 14 and gunned them down, Horn has been in legal limbo, unsure if he was going to have to defend himself and his actions or go free.

Monday, a Harris County grand jury chose not to indict Horn in the deaths of Hernando Riascos Torres and Diego Ortiz, meaning he can live his life without having to explain before a jury of his peers why he chose to be judge, jury and executioner of the two.

As a native Texan, I know how folks in my state feel about criminals: Hit 'em hard, then hit 'em again. The state leads the nation in executions, and Texas juries don't play when it comes to crime. Video Watch two sides of the gun law debate »

Yet while folks revel in Horn's actions, it really does call for a moment of reflection about the seriousness of taking someone's life.

Horn did what any of us would do in that situation: He called 911 to report the crime, and was told officers were being dispatched. But he was so incensed with what was taking place he told the dispatcher he was going to kill the men. No amount of pleading could get him to stop. On the audiotape of the incident, we can hear Horn racking his gun, firing two shots and killing Torres and Ortiz. Video Listen to the audiotape of the shooting »

"They had it coming." "Tough stuff." "They shouldn't have broken the law." I heard all of those comments and more on my radio show, blogs and other call-in shows, as a nation fed up with crime gave a big "Hooray!" for Horn.

But I just don't see exactly what there is to celebrate. Two men -- both illegal immigrants and one of them with a conviction for selling drugs -- are dead for stealing some personal effects, and we are supposed to welcome this vigilante justice? (I suppose it's ironic that one week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the rape of a child doesn't merit the death penalty -- one that I disagree with -- many others are celebrating a man not standing trial for the killing of two others who committed robbery.)

Yes, the law was on Horn's side, whether he knew that or not when he fired. But when does our core decency come in when we make such life-altering decisions in a snap? Don't you think making the choice to kill someone should be based on something more dire, such as if your life is in danger?

Don't be so quick to jump up and down and say you would have done the same thing; really think about it and ask yourself if you would follow Joe Horn and kill two people for stealing from your neighbor.

At no point was Horn's life in danger. We also know that his neighbor was out of town and no one was at home. So don't try to bring up the various hypothetical situations that could alter the basic facts of the story.

Two sorry men who already broke the law by coming in the country illegally chose to hasten their fate by robbing the wrong house with the wrong neighbor watching.

Our choices have life-altering -- or life-ending -- consequences.

But Horn could have chosen differently. He didn't have to fire on the men. He could have heeded the advice of the dispatcher and not gone outside with his shotgun. He could have left apprehending criminals to the folks empowered to do so -- the police.

I think of my dad, who as a child I witnessed chase down two men who snatched a woman's Christmas gifts from her hand in a mall parking lot. If he had a gun, should he have just fired away, protecting this unknown woman's property?

I really want to know: Would you have pulled a Joe Horn and racked your shotgun and fired on the men if you were in his shoes?


Roland S. Martin is an award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. He is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." Please visit his Web site at

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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