Ezekiel Gilbert shot Lenora Ivie Frago in the neck on Christmas Eve, after she denied his requests for sex and wouldn’t return the $150 he had paid her, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Under Texas law, an individual is authorized to use deadly force to “retrieve stolen property at night,” and Gilbert’s lawyers cited that provision as justification for Gilbert’s action, reasoning that Frago had stolen $150 from him by taking his money without delivering sex. In a police interview played for jurors, Gilbert “never mentioned anything about theft,” a detective told the San Antonio Express-News. Frago, who was 21, was critically injured and died several months later.
While the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida has generated notoriety for NRA-backed Stand Your Ground laws, which authorize the unfettered use of deadly force without a duty to retreat in defense of one’s person or home, Texas’ exceedingly broad law goes well beyond this, to allow deadly force in protection of any piece of “tangible” or “movable” property.
The Texas provision authorizes deadly force not only to “retrieve stolen property at night” but also during “criminal mischief in the nighttime” and even to prevent someone who is fleeing immediately after a theft during the night or a burglary or robbery, so long as the individual “reasonably” thinks the property cannot be protected by other means.
This shockingly broad statute authorizes individuals to take not just law enforcement, but punishment, into their own hands and impose death for alleged offenses that would never warrant the death penalty even if the person were convicted in court. But even in light of the expansive vigilante justice made legal by the statute, it is difficult to see how Gilbert’s behavior was justified, given that escorts are not entitled to deliver sex under the law, and delivering sex for money is an illegal transaction.