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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Monday, January 5, 2009

'Justified homicides' more than doubled

One hour after revelers welcomed the new year in 2008, a motorist at a Northwest Side intersection fired three shots into 24-year-old Tomas Garza, moments after authorities said Garza threatened the motorist with a baseball bat in an apparent road-rage incident.

The killing, the first of 137 recorded in San Antonio last year, was an act of self-defense, police later determined, and was classified by department officials as a justified homicide.

While the total number of killings in San Antonio barely budged in 2008 — up only slightly from the 134 recorded the prior year — detectives noted an upswing in cases in which the shooter was found to be within his rights, from instances of apparent self-defense to protecting one's home and family.

According to Police Department statistics, justified homicides in 2008 rose significantly, from seven in 2007 to 17 mirroring a nationwide trend. Of the 17, city and other area police officers were involved in seven.

“Nationally, it appears that justifiable homicides have increased,” criminologist James Alan Fox said. “The reasons could be many. We seem to be sending a message that it's acceptable to (use deadly force) even if there is a chance of fleeing.”

Fox said less-stringent gun laws — and a tendency to treat people like heroes if they use violent means to defend themselves — could have contributed to what he said is a more general acceptance of deadly force.

“There's always been a self-defense element in law,” he said, “but what we've been telling people more and more is don't flee, and if you are afraid you can defend yourself.” [Mark Godsey]

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