LUBBOCK, Texas — Several high-profile homicide cases in the Lubbock area have involved one common element: the claim of self-defense.
Rene Quintanilla was arrested and held on murder charges for fatally shooting Robert Rodriguez in 2020. However, he never faced a criminal trial after a grand jury deemed his actions as self defense and declined to indict him.
William “Kyle” Carruth also claimed self-defense after fatally shooting Chad Read on November 5, 2021, and he was never arrested or charged. Similarly to Quintanilla, a grand jury declined to indict Carruth.
Also on November 5, Ryan Menegay claimed he was acting in the defense of a woman when fatally shooting Christopher Guerra. He was arrested and was still facing murder charges.
Jonathan Mermella has maintained his actions were defensive as he awaits murder charges for fatally stabbing Robert Flores on April 11.
“You can’t compare one murder case to another,” criminal defense attorney Chuck Lanehart said. “But I’ll tell you this, there have been a heck of a lot more murder cases that have happened in the last two or three years than we had before. I don’t know why. But there’s more out there, so it’s more likely that some of them will be good self-defense cases.”
According to Texas Penal Code Sec. 9.31, Texas law authorizes deadly force “when and to the degree he reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.”
The Texas Castle Doctrine, under Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Sec. 9.42, also authorizes deadly force “to protect land or tangible, movable property… [if] he reasonably believes that the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means…”
However, Texas law prohibits force used in self-defense if deadly force is used to protect against a less-than-deadly threat, if used to respond to a merely verbal provocation or threat, or if the danger is provoked by the actor themselves.
“[If] someone comes at you with a fist and attempts to punch you, you can’t use deadly force to protect yourself from that,” Lanehart said.
Still, Mr. Lanehart said his experience leads him to believe jurors in Texas are especially amenable to self-defense claims.
“Self-defense is very popular with jurors, especially in this part of the country,” he said. “The use of force to protect yourself is part of Texas culture, essentially, so if you have the facts you can get an acquittal.”
However, the ability to prove those facts can make the difference. Notably, both the shooters who avoided charges recently – Carruth and Quintanilla – had their altercations recorded in-full on video.
“If you raise the issue of self-defense by showing that you reasonably believe someone is using force against you… then the state has to disprove your justification beyond a reasonable doubt,” Lanehart said. So it’s a very effective tool if you have the facts.”