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Was justice served, or done, in Texas ‘revenge killing’ case?

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Updated: A Texas father is free this morning following his acquittal yesterday in Angelton on charges that he gunned down the drunk driver who had just killed his two sons in a December 2012 crash, and the case is eliciting some interesting remarks from Seattle Times readers who have followed the story.

A jury deliberated about three hours yesterday before finding David Barajas not guilty in the slaying of 20-year-old Jose Banda. According to the Houston Chronicle, Banda smashed into David Barajas, Jr., 12, and his 11-year-old brother, Caleb, as they pushed their dad’s truck toward their nearby house because it had run out of gas.

Prosecutors alleged that Barajas, 32, went home, got a handgun and shot Banda in a rage. But the case had a couple of loopholes bigger than the ones Seattle billionaires alleged they’re trying to close with Initiative 594. Texas authorities couldn’t find the murder weapon, and they could not find any gunshot residue on Barajas. This created a pretty big hurdle for the prosecution.

The case is making national news, with interest as far away as Chicago. There, WLS news, the local ABC affiliate, noted in its report that Barajas’ attorney contended his client did not have time to go home, get a gun, return to the crash site, shoot Banda, and then go back home a second time to clean up and change his clothes. That's a pretty strong argument.

Banda, said the Houston Chronicle report, had a blood alcohol level that was twice the legal limit. The fact that he killed the two youngsters is raising some question among people reacting to the verdict that, perhaps, the jury practiced “Texas justice,” whatever that is. The old “He needed killin’!” defense, eh?

This does raise a question. If Barajas didn’t shoot the man who had just killed his sons, and evidently he didn't, then who did? Barajas has been cleared by a jury of his peers. The state obviously could not make a case. It wasn’t J.R. Ewing, the fictional scoundrel played by the late Larry Hagman in the popular evening soap opera “Dallas.” It couldn’t have been legendary Texas gunslinger-turned-attorney John Wesley Hardin. He’s been dead for more than a century, shot in El Paso by lawman John Selman. Well, somebody did it because Banda didn’t commit suicide, and Barajas was acquitted because the physical evidence wasn't there.

It should be noted that it is not the responsibility of criminal defense attorneys to pin the blame on any other person. That may happen on television, but the attorney's job is to defend his client, and in this case, defense attorney Sam Cammack did his job. It's up to police to find the real culprit, and first they have to find the murder weapon.

One Seattle Times reader suggested “Heads up Dan Satterberg and Norm Maleng.” Another reader quickly reminded everyone that Maleng, the late King County prosecutor, died years ago. Satterberg is the current prosecutor. Under neither man has there been anything nearing a bad call on a self-defense case, to this column’s knowledge, but the Texas case was not about self-defense, it was about retribution; what some salty old lawmen used to call “curbside justice,” but that would presume Barajas may have actually fired the shots, and a jury that considered all the evidence, or lack of it, obviously believed that was an awfully big presumption.

But we don't automatically presume people to be guilty of a crime in this country. That has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. That didn't happen.

What is emerging in the Times’ reader comments is an interesting philosophical divide. Some people believe the drunk driver got what he deserved. Others suggest nobody deserves to be gunned down like that. Evidently, the Times readership is not nearly as “Blue State” as some people might believe.

Was justice served by the Texas verdict, or was it done? Could the jury have reached a different conclusion without physical evidence? Should the case have even been filed, lacking the key piece of physical evidence and the absence of gunshot residue? The case is closed, but the questions remain.

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