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– Stand Your Ground’ Houstonian Gets 40 Years; Plus, Brown’s Budget and More

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UPDATE: Raul Rodriguez is sentenced to 40 years in prison for murdering Kelly Danaher. 4:00 PM

 

 

A Harris County jury is deep in deliberations today over the sentencing of Raul Rodriguez, convicted of murdering Kelly Danaher, his unarmed neighbor, in a 2010 confrontation over loud music. Dateline Houston reported on Rodriguez earlier this month, comparing his guilty verdict with that of a Houston police officer who also thought wrongly that his life was in danger. Rodriguez videotaped the encounter, recording himself saying what he believed to be the magic words: “My life is in danger” and “I’m standing my ground here.”

During sentencing, the prosecution said Rodriguez should get life in prison and called his act premeditated, based on his taped statements and armed initiation of the conflict. The defense argued that Rodriguez made “the wrong call” because of Texas’s “Stand Your Ground” laws, and that he should get the minimum, five years in prison.

Quoth the Chronicle: “’And as we go forward into the future, other people will make the wrong call’ because of misunderstanding about laws that permit the use of force when someone feels threatened, said attorney Bill Stradley. ‘And they will find themselves, like Raul Rodriguez, charged with murder.’”

It’s an interesting twist; usually criticism of “Stand Your Ground” laws comes from advocates for victims, but in this case, the defense seemed to be suggesting Rodriguez was the victim of a bad, easily misinterpreted law.

Midday today, the jury asked for a fresh-air break. We’ll report when deliberations end.

 

Here are a few more updates on previous Dateline Houston stories:

—In May, DH brought you the saga of Chad Holley, who in 2010 was videotaped (allegedly) being stomped, kicked, and punched during his arrest for suspected burglary, for which he was later convicted. Holley was 15 at the time. In May, the first of the officers charged with official oppression for the violent arrest was found not guilty by an all-white jury (Holley is black), prompting cries of racism.

Well, Holley is in the news again: now 18, he was arrested mid-June for burglary. Again. Three other officers are still charged and waiting to be tried for Holley’s alleged beating, and attorneys for two of those officers have already said they’ll try to get Holley’s second arrest admitted as evidence. In the most cynical view, this might change the trial’s central question from, “Did the officer use unnecessary violence?” to “Did the kid deserve it?”

 

—In lighter news, everyone’s favorite Houston City Council member Helena Brown continues her quest to single-handedly bring fiscal responsibility to Houston—this time, by defaulting on its obligations. Of the several amendments to the 2013 city budget that Brown proposed, one was “Default on the City’s contribution to the Pension Plans…so that the issue will be moved before the Texas Supreme Court to bring to question the state constitutionality of obliging them to maintain an unsustainable pension plan.”

Brown also wants to “Default on all Tax Bonds,” adding by way of explanation only, “It is the fiduciary responsibility of investment banks and advisors to know their financial risk before taking them.” Suckers.

Other ideas: “Outsource EMS,” “Take Parks and Recreation…and relinquish control over to county, citizens, or private sector,” or just the squirrels, whatever, and have the city “look into possibly requiring or only hiring first responders who live within the city limits so that they have ‘skin-in-the-game!’” Exclamation point, obviously, hers.

One more thing: “Decrease the water rate 20%.”

 

—Houston’s controversial restrictions on feeding the homeless go into effect at the end of this week, which DH reported on in April. Volunteers are scrambling to get enough petition signatures to trigger a charter amendment vote in November to repeal the ordinance. The Houston Press looks at the old-school efforts of the Kubosh brothers, who lately canvassed the city with 30,000 pamphlets about the petition, while the Chronicle has a grim assessment of the ordinance’s effects even before enforcement: only six organizations have registered with the city to give food, and, “So far, the city has approved only one feeding site, a city-owned vacant lot at the corner of Franklin and Chartres.”

Emily DePrang is a staff writer at The Texas Observer where she covers criminal justice and public health. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic and Salon.com, and she’s a former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. She’s holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2013, she was a National Health Journalism Fellow; in 2012 she won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in magazine journalism.