Motorist who shot dead unarmed man goes free Jury refuses to indict him in test of new Texas law allowing concealed guns

March 21, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DALLAS - In a test of Texas' new concealed weapons law, a grand jury yesterday refused to indict a man who pulled out a concealed handgun and used it to fatally shoot an unarmed man who had attacked him after a minor traffic accident.

The grand jury determined that Gordon Hale III, a 42-year-old welding supply repairman, had used justifiable force in defending himself Feb. 21 against an attack from Kenny Tavai, a 33-year-old delivery man.

Witnesses said Mr. Tavai approached Mr. Hale's pickup truck at a traffic light after the truck and his car made contact. Mr. Tavai began arguing and then punching Mr. Hale through an open window.

Mr. Hale, who was carrying his weapon legally under the new state law, then reached for his .40-caliber handgun and shot Mr. Tavai once in the chest, investigators and witnesses said. Mr. Tavai died several hours later.

Opponents of the state's new weapons law which allows ordinary citizens to carry a concealed weapon but limits its use against other people to extreme circumstances cited the incident as an example of what could go wrong with the new law.

But Mr. Hale's father said the new measure worked effectively.

"The law acted as it was supposed to," said Gordon Hale Jr. "My son was attacked and he defended himself legally, in a legal manner with a legal weapon."

Mr. Hale says his son was pummeled on the head by Mr. Tavai, and now suffers from blurred vision in one eye because of the beating. Although there is some dispute over whether an individual must fear for his life to use a concealed handgun in self-defense, Mr. Hale said his son's life was in danger.

Elizabeth Tamez, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, could not be reached for comment.

But Nina Butts, a spokeswoman for Texans Against Gun Violence, said the decision sends a dangerous message: "The grand jury says the murder was justifiable, but is it necessary to kill each other over broken side-view mirrors?"

Ms. Butts said Texans do not want a state in which ordinary citizens settle disputes with guns. "This law is not about public safety," she said. "It's about selling and promoting guns."

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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