In Texas, a father who killed daughter’s attacker is no vigilante

After considering a case that raised questions about vigilantism, a Texas grand jury declines to indict a young father who beat to death an older man he found sexually assaulting his 5-year-old.

Bringing to a close a story that dominated Father’s Day weekend, a Texas grand jury on Tuesday said a young father acted within the law when he used his fists to beat a man to death for sexually assaulting his 5-year-old daughter in a rural area near Shiner, Texas, on June 9.

While the outcome surprised few, the grand jury's decision appears to have been grounded as much on facts and the law as the more emotional question of whether the sexual assault itself justified revenge on the part of a father, legal experts say.

The grand jury, according to prosecutors, based its decision in part on a frantic 911 call by the father, which suggested that he did not intend to kill the man. The jurors also may have kept in mind a specific Texas law that allows use of deadly force when defending a victim against sexual assault.

While the father had not been arrested, the grand jury hearing was part of a homicide investigation into the death of the ranch hand, Jesus Flores, who was in his 40s. (The father's name has not been released to protect the identify of the young girl.)

Legal analysts had earlier raised questions about whether the father should have stopped beating Mr. Flores after removing the daughter from danger and whether he would have been less liable if he had used a weapon instead of his fists, because pummeling someone to death can take considerable effort and suggests that revenge may have been a motive.

According to prosecutors, the father was alerted by a witness that the ranch hand was “forcibly carrying” the girl away. He then heard his daughter screaming, and, police say, found the ranch hand behind a barn assaulting the girl. After pulling Flores up, the father repeatedly punched him in the head and neck, where, the coroner said, the blunt force trauma was significant enough to cause death.

Putting to rest questions about another possible motive for killing Flores, who was a Mexican national with a green card, prosecutors pointed to the separate witness to the incident and the fact that the daughter had injuries consistent with a sexual assault.

Across the country the primary public reaction was that the incident, while unfortunate, was not murder but rather a justified defense of an underaged crime victim.

The father's emotional 911 call also made clear that there was no sense of nonchalance or satisfaction about what he had done. On the tape, the grand jury heard the father becoming increasingly agitated about whether EMTs would reach the remote ranch in time. "Come on! This guy is going to die on me!" the dad is heard screaming on the 911 call. "I don't know what to do!"

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