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Associated Press, Published June 13 2012

Houston stand your ground trial now with jury

HOUSTON — A Texas man who claims the state's version of a stand-your-ground law allowed him to fatally shoot a neighbor after a verbal confrontation at a 2010 party is an “angry, aggressive, gun-hungry person” who is twisting the law to get away with murder, prosecutors told jurors on Wednesday.

But a defense attorney for Raul Rodriguez countered that a 2007 expansion of the law allowed the retired Houston-area firefighter to use deadly force because his client, who was not doing anything illegal, felt his life was in danger when his neighbor and two other men came at him.

Rodriguez videotaped the incident and is heard on the recording claiming he feared for his life, saying “I'm standing my ground.”

Though the shooting happened two years before the February shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida and will be decided under a different kind of self-defense doctrine, Rodriguez's statement calls to mind the law that has come under increased scrutiny since Martin was killed.

Rodriguez is on trial for murder and faces up to life in prison if convicted. His attorneys did not present any witnesses in his defense.

Prosecutor Kelli Johnson said Rodriguez, 47, started the confrontation when instead of calmly asking Kelly Danaher to turn down the music he armed himself with a handgun and a camera and proceeded to harass people at the gathering.

Johnson said Rodriguez lured and provoked Danaher and two other men to come out onto the street and threatened them by brandishing his gun. Rodriguez did have a concealed handgun license. She said Danaher and the two other men were unarmed and that Rodriguez's life was never in any danger. Danaher, a 36-year-old elementary school physical education teacher, died from a gunshot wound to the chest. The two other men were injured.

“This is not what stand your ground is,” Johnson said. “Stand your ground is something the law takes very seriously. The law makes it very clear” the situations it can be used.

Texas’ version of a stand-your-ground law is known as the Castle Doctrine. It was revised in 2007 to expand the right to use deadly force. It allows people to defend themselves in their homes, workplaces or vehicles. Legal experts say the expansion also gave people wider latitude on the use of deadly force.

The law also says a person using force cannot provoke the attacker or be involved in criminal activity at the time.

Johnson said Rodriguez can't hide behind the stand-your-ground law because he provoked the confrontation and during the incident brandished his weapon against an unarmed individual, which is a crime.

But defense attorney Neal Davis said Rodriguez did nothing illegal when he went over to complain about the noise and was confronted by Danaher and the two others. Davis said Rodriguez never brandished his weapon and only pulled it out after Danaher came over to him in a threatening manner as the ex-firefighter stood in the street.

“He had a right to be (on) the street. He was not provoking anybody. He was not engaged in any criminal activity. The (stand-your-ground) law is not only for home invasions. That's why the law was changed,” Davis said.

An acquittal of Rodriguez would not “say everyone in the city of Houston is going to turn into the wild, wild west,” Davis said.

Johnson told jurors prosecutors don't have any problems with guns in Texas.

“But with that comes a lot of responsibility. It has to be used as a last resort,” she said.

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