Fred Yazdi was accused of murder after the death of Enrique Recio in February 2012, and most elements of the story were never in dispute: Yazdi never claimed that he didn’t shoot Recio, who had crashed his car near Yazdi’s Avery Ranch home in suburban Austin, and who had been under Yazdi’s wife’s car. Other elements were disputed: Yazdi claimed, for instance, that Recio had pounded on his front door—though prosecutor Lytza Bragg argued that Yazdi lied about that part of the story, according to the Austin American-Statesman:
Yazdi, 49, lied when he told police that Recio had banged on his front door, the prosecutor said, because police found no evidence of damage to the door or any of Yazdi’s property. Yazdi’s wife, who made the 911 call to report the shooting, also never reported that Recio had banged at the front door and she decided not to testify during the trial, said Bragg.
Recio never would have banged on Yazdi’s front door because he was waiting for a friend he had called to pick him up and didn’t want to bring attention to himself, Bragg said.
Yazdi saw Recio outside his house and and ran outside because he “wanted to apprehend him before he escaped,” Bragg said. Yazdi also left the front door open, which showed he was not afraid of any possible intruder, she said. He also took the time to take off his watch and put down his cell phone before running outside, she said.
He shot Recio once as Recio was climbing over an iron fence and then shot him twice after Recio fell on the ground, according to the pattern of the wounds, Bragg said. Bullets hit Recio’s left hip, the left side of his abdomen and the side of his right knee.
The shot to his hip was fatal because it hit the aorta, which supplies blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
Yazdi’s defense, meanwhile, was rooted in Texas’s Castle Doctrine, the 2007 law that, as bill author State Senator Jeff Wentworth put it in an editorial in the San Antonio Express-News, is derived “from the common law principle that people’s homes are their castles, and they have the right to defend themselves from criminal intruders.”
The questions in the case hinged on whether Yazdi, or his family or property, were under threat from Recio, and whether the sidewalk 100 yards from Yazdi’s house where Recio’s body was found was part of his “castle.” The jury deliberations weren’t clear-cut in the case, either—a note they sent the judge yesterday afternoon suggested that they might be deadlocked at 10-2.
In his 2012 editorial, Senator Wentworth wrote that the legislature passed SB 378, the Castle Doctrine law, in order to clear up confusion regarding situations like this.
This law was needed because many Texans believed that they already had the right to use force in these situations. My bill clarified that right and shifted the burden of proof under the law to favor the intended victim instead of the criminal intruder or attacker.
Texans needed to know that the law is on their side when they respond with force to an attack. Police may still investigate, and prosecutors may still bring charges against a homeowner, driver, or business owner if the facts surrounding a self-defense case are in question.
Under the old Texas law, we had a duty to attempt to retreat first if we were attacked. Under our current “Castle Doctrine” law, we may certainly retreat if we choose to do so, but there is no longer a requirement to do so.
Clarification is a worthwhile goal, but the invocation of Castle Doctrine in the Yazdi case points to a complicated situation. If a shooting incident looks to prosecutors (and, ultimately, to a jury) like murder, and looks to plenty of others (read the comments on any story about the Yazdi conviction) like an example of a citizen exercising a right to defend his property, then the bill that Senator Wentworth’s editorial claimed “clarified” the rights of Texans still leaves room for quite a few important questions.