HOUSTON, Texas (Reuters) - A retired Texas firefighter convicted in the fatal shooting of an unarmed neighbor was sentenced on Wednesday to 40 years in prison, after his “stand-your-ground” legal defense failed.
Raul Rodriguez, 47, was convicted earlier this month of the 2010 murder of his neighbor, 36-year-old teacher Kelly Danaher, following a dispute about the noise level at a birthday party at Danaher’s house.
Prior to the shooting in Huffman, a rural Texas community northeast of Houston, Rodriguez videotaped himself calling police and telling a dispatcher that his life was in danger and that “I’m standing my ground here.”
After a struggle in which it appeared that somebody at the party was grabbing for Rodriguez’ camera, he shot Danaher and wounded two other men.
Stand-your-ground gun laws exist in at least 20 U.S. states, including Texas and Florida, where earlier this year a neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman invoked a version of the defense after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.
Prior to 2007, Texas law allowed persons to defend themselves with deadly force in their homes, vehicles and workplaces if they felt their lives were in danger. But the law required that a person first seek an alternative to deadly force to escape danger, like fleeing.
A 2007 law rescinded the duty to retreat, provided those who invoked it could demonstrate they did not provoke their aggressor and were not committing a crime at the time of the shooting. That law and similar ones in other states have become known as stand-your-ground laws.
Prosecutors argued that Rodriguez had provoked a standoff with the party guests by shining a flashlight at Danaher’s house from the roadway. Defense attorney William Stradley called it a “perfect storm of events” with no evil intent from Rodriguez.
If not for threats from intoxicated party-goers to “get even,” Rodriguez might not have felt he was in imminent danger, Stradley said.
A person contemplating murder does not call the police beforehand, he said. Stradley told jurors the case hinged on just the two seconds before Rodriguez pulled the trigger.
“Anyone has the right to stand their ground,” he said.
Prosecutor Donna Logan countered in court that the time Rodriguez spent documenting his feelings and thoughts and fears demonstrated premeditation. She called Rodriguez “unpredictable, impulsive and calculating.”
Rodriguez, who faced between 5 years and life in prison before sentencing, will be eligible for parole in 20 years. The defense plans to appeal.
Editing by Chris Francescani, Cynthia Johnston and David Brunnstrom