A grand jury will weigh in this week on whether to pursue a criminal case against a Shiner resident who killed a man he allegedly caught molesting his five-year-old daughter.

The story has buzzed across the world since the June 9 killing. The deceased man, Jesus Mora Flores, a horse groomer who worked for the family, had come over to the house that day for a barbecue, KHOU reported. The girl’s father caught him with his pants down attacking the girl and beat Flores to death, reports say.

Public opinion seems firmly behind the father in Shiner. “Any father would have done that,” Michael James Veit, a Shiner resident who lives across the road from the ranch where the death happened, told CNN. “Everybody is saying the father is justified.”

At the Christian Science Monitor, Patrik Jonsson tried to unpack whether a crime had been committed:

In most jurisdictions, according to “Criminal Law,” a widely used textbook, the use of fists in defense if there are no other weapons present is automatically an example of reasonable force. But in this case, were emotions an extenuating circumstance that caused the angry dad to go too far? More broadly, when is a person in a defensive fight required to stop?

“Assuming it’s true that this guy was molesting the daughter … he would then have the right to defend her and hit him enough to have him stop,” James Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, told Foxnews.com. “But you cannot summarily execute him, even though I can understand the anger he would have.”

He added: “The question is: When does it move beyond self-defense?”

And there’s another quirk to the case, suggests radio talk show host Geraldo Rivera, a lawyer.

“If he had a weapon and he used it to stop a sexual assault, he would not be indicted, but, ironically, the fact that he didn’t have a weapon leaves him more legally vulnerable than otherwise he would be,” Mr. Rivera told Bill O’Reilly Friday on Fox News. “In this case, you grab him off, now you’ve stopped the sexual assault, but now what are you doing? At what point does prevention of the sex assault become revenge, the implementation of vigilante justice?”

So far, the court of public opinion has stood steadfastly behind the father. 

Time‘s Bonnie Rochman explored this same question at the magazine’s Healthland blog last week: 

Assuming the situation occurred as it’s been described, it’s unlikely that a grand jury would be able to summon up much compassion for the alleged child molester. There are bad crimes and there are really bad crimes, and sexually assaulting kids falls under the latter. 

Molesting any child is reprehensible, but taking advantage of a 4-year-old who has no awareness of what’s going on and no ability to fight back seems particularly deranged. How might you have reacted if you were the parent? I’d like to think I would have grabbed my child away and screamed for help, but the Mama Bear instinct lies latent in all parents for just these sorts of situations. 

“We have an instinctual desire to protect our kids,” says David Finkelhor, 
director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. “A sexual threat is seen as a mortal threat against their future and their reputation. It is almost like a trigger where we are completely entitled to feel righteous anger.” 

Are we completely entitled to use lethal force? That’s a question that will be decided in the coming weeks. I’m betting the answer is yes.  

Chattanoogan columnist Roy Exum also opined that the father would not be punished: “Maybe here is a case where frontier justice will probably be brought back into play. Darn near everybody in Shiner, Tex., located about 150 miles west of Houston, who knows the young rancher says he’s been ‘good as gold’ his whole life, the lone flaw on his name being that he says ‘Yessir’ and ‘No ma’am’ so much it sometimes makes other young adults in town look tawdry.”