Joe Horn Horn has not been charged in the fatal shooting of two suspected burglars, although the district attorney will likely present the case to a grand jury to determine if charges should be filed.


Dec. 30, 2007, 2:08PM

Vigilante or just vigilant, Pasadena resident Joe Horn blasted himself into a world of controversy Nov. 14 when he fatally shot two men he said were breaking into the house of his next-door neighbor.Despite repeated admonitions of a 911 dispatcher not to confront the pair, the 61-year-old computer consultant stepped onto his front porch, spotted the men in his front yard and shot them in the back. Killed in the midday incident were Hernando Riascos Torres, 38, and Diego Ortiz, 30, both black Colombian nationals later determined to have been in the United States illegally.

In a taped conversation with the dispatcher, a clearly agitated Horn expressed concern that the men would escape with a bag of stolen property.

Horn, in a written statement released through his lawyer, Tom Lambright, later lamented the shootings, conceding they would “weigh heavily on me for the rest of my life.”

While Horn’s actions may have been protected under law — his lawyer says he fired in self-defense — the shootings ignited a contentious debate on gun rights, racism and immigration.

Little more than two weeks after the killings, protesters led by black activist Quanell X verbally dueled with Horn supporters in front of Horn’s Pasadena home.

Quanell X called for Horn to be charged with murder. “Our position is that we do not condone their actions,” Quanell X said of the burglary suspects, “but Horn acted as police officer, judge, jury and executioner all at the same time.”

Motorcycle-riding Horn supporters revved their engines each time the activist attempted to speak publicly. One of the counterprotesters waved an American flag and shouted “Go home” at members of the New Black Panther Nation. “Don’t break into people’s homes, and you won’t get shot,” she said.

Letters and comments expressing similar opinions poured in to newspapers, talk-radio programs and computer chatrooms.

Although Horn had no way of knowing that the burglar suspects were illegal immigrants and that one had previously been deported for a drug offense, the shootings touched off a powder keg of emotion.

Still simmering among some was the memory of an August crash in which three people, one of them a 2-year-old boy, died.

Police said the driver of a second vehicle, illegal immigrant Juan Felix Salinas, was intoxicated. He had been arrested earlier in the year for “violently shaking his wife,” authorities said. He avoided being detected by immigration authorities, however, by signing a “non-arrest” bond, which some victim advocates have called a loophole for illegal immigrants.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office later stopped issuing such bonds.

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