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Houston activists say 'vigilante killer' who shot robbery suspect should be charged

Several community activists showed up at the taqueria and said the man who shot and killed 30-year-old Eric Washington went beyond self-defense.

HOUSTON — Several community activists gathered Sunday at the southwest Houston taqueria at which a robber was shot and killed earlier this month.

They said the shooting went "beyond self-defense" and also characterized it as "a cold-blooded execution."

While some are calling him a hero, this group wants the shooter to be criminally indicted.

"We must not allow citizens to become judge, jury and executor," the group, which consisted of Dr. Candice Matthews (Texas Coalition of Black Democrats/Rainbow/PUSH Coalition/New Black Panther Nation), Quanell X (New Black Panther Nation), family members of the deceased and other civil rights organizations, said in a statement.

Quanell X said the group is not condoning the actions of 30-year-old Eric Eugene Washington and said he was wrong for robbing the store. They said he deserved to be punished and sent to jail -- but not killed.

"He went too far," Quanell X said. "That's overkill. That's no longer self-defense."

They're calling for the shooter to be charged with something. Quanell X said he's not sure what that charge should be.

"That man went from being a law-abiding citizen to now committing criminal acts and criminal crimes. We believe ... I believe that he should be charged with something because we cannot have a society where our citizens are judge, jury and executioner," Quanell X said.

The group said they don't believe the initial shots were a problem.

"He stood over the young man and shot him multiple times over and over again when he was no longer a threat," Quanell X said. "I know for a fact that this was not just a simple act of a good citizen defending himself. There was no justification to walk up on him and put multiple shots, then leave with the weapon and come back and shoot him in the head again. That's too much."

Watch the full news conference here.

What happened

The incident happened just before 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 5 at Ranchito Taqueria on S. Gessner near Bellaire Boulevard.

Police said an armed man in a mask, later identified by authorities as Washington, entered the restaurant and demanded money and wallets from the customers. As he was leaving, one of the customers pulled out a gun and shot Washington several times.

After the shooting, that same customer collected the stolen money from the robber and returned it to the other patrons, police said.

According to authorities, the rest of the people in the restaurant left the scene before the police got there.

Police later said Washington didn't have a real gun.

“The robbery suspect ... came into the store and was wearing masks and gloves,” HPD Lt. Wilkens said. “He had a plastic pistol, possibly an aero soft or possibly a little BB pistol.”

No one else in the restaurant was injured.

Shooter's statement

Last week, the attorney representing the man who shot and killed Washington released a statement on his client's behalf.

The statement said the shooter wishes to remain anonymous and outlines what happened at the restaurant, which is what's seen on the surveillance video from inside the restaurant at the time of the robbery and shooting. It goes on to say they believe the shooting is justified and a grand jury will reach the same conclusion.

The statement also sheds some light on what the man who shot the robber is feeling right now.

"This event has been very traumatic, taking a human life is something he does not take lightly and will burden him for the rest of his life," the statement, released by Juan L. Guerra Jr., said.

HPD had been looking for the man who shot Washington ever since it happened.

After the shooting, the customer left the scene. Authorities immediately said they wanted to talk to him to get his side of the story.

Last weekend, an attorney claiming to represent the customer said his client reached out to HPD and said he was ready to talk. One day later, the man spoke with investigators. Authorities said the 46-year-old man was questioned by homicide detectives. He was not arrested or charged and his name was not released.

HPD said the case will be referred to a grand jury to determine if charges are warranted.

Police are also hoping to question any customers who were at the restaurant that night. Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Houston police.

Full statement

"My client, who wishes to remain anonymous, was dining with a friend at El Ranchito Taqueria and as it has been seen on video a robbery suspect entered the restaurant, pointed a weapon at my client and the other customers demanding money. In fear of his life and his friend’s life, my client acted to protect everyone in the restaurant.

"In Texas, a shooting is justified in self-defense, defense of others and in defense of property. The customer has met with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and investigators with HPD homicide. He fully intends to continue cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

"When the investigation is complete, this case will be presented to a grand jury. We are confident that a grand jury will conclude that the shooting was justified under Texas law.

"This event has been very traumatic. Taking a human life is something he does not take lightly and will burden him for the rest of his life. For that reason, he wishes to remain anonymous. Due to the overwhelming coverage, we ask the media and the public to respect his privacy."

Was the shooting justified?

KHOU Legal Analyst Carmen Roe said the shooting appears to be in self-defense but understands why police wanted to talk to the shooter.

“One of the reasons that law enforcement is seeking out this individual is to find out whether he was in fear for his life or the lives of the people around him because that’s absolutely essential to a self-defense claim under the law," Roe said. “If you’re justified in shooting the first bullet, you’re justified in continuing to shoot until the deadly threat is no longer there."

Nathan Beedle works with the Harris County District Attorney's Office. He said Texas law outlines specific instances pertaining to robbery by threat, or aggravated robbery, where deadly force is presumed justified.

"I can point you exactly where it is in the law: 9.31 and 9.32 of the penal code," Beedle said. "Whether someone uses deadly force in the situation, that is presumed to be correct under Texas law."

Roe said it didn't matter if the gun used in the robbery was fake because the threat was real.

“Everybody in that restaurant clearly believed it was a real gun," she said.

Defense attorney Nicole Deborde Hochglaube said that if the shooting is justified under Texas law, it doesn't matter how many bullets were fired.

“My takeaway is the gentleman who discharged the weapon was acting lawfully and it was his right to defend himself and the patrons in that restaurant,” Hochglaube said. “Once you are entitled to use deadly force under the law, you’re entitled to use deadly force until the threat is over.”

Former prosecutor for the Harris County District Attorney's Office Joanne Musick said she also sees the shooting as a matter of self-defense.

“This is a man defending himself and others in the restaurant. People are getting sick and tired of crime on the streets,” Musick said.

Washington's criminal history

According to court records, this wasn't Washington's first robbery.

In 2013, he and others were charged with capital murder after a man was killed during an armed robbery, according to prosecutors. The charge was later changed to aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and Washington was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

It's unclear exactly when he was released, but the most recent time he was arrested was Dec. 16 when authorities said he pushed his girlfriend to the ground and scratched her. Washington was charged with misdemeanor family violence and was released on a personal recognizance bond.

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