Ortiz Shooting: The Merits of Self-Defense
What would it take to believe Jason Roche’s story?
Family and friends continue to mourn 19-year-old Devonte Ortiz, the man gunned down on the Fourth of July outside of an East Riverside apartment during a dispute with a neighbor over he and his friends' use of fireworks. The suspect, 41-year-old Jason Roche, approached the group and told them to stop, and police say that when they didn't, Roche and Ortiz got into an argument that led to Ortiz's death. Roche has acknowledged that he did in fact shoot Ortiz, but claimed he did so as an act of self-defense. While court documents suggest Ortiz had access to a firearm at the scene, cell phone video showed Ortiz unarmed at the time of the shooting.
Roche's explanation has led some to draw parallels to the 2012 Florida shooting death of Trayvon Martin, which ultimately found his killer George Zimmerman acquitted on grounds of self-defense. Austin Justice Coalition founder Chas Moore said he believes the comparisons are more in reference to the situation itself, and that he doesn't believe the outcome will be the same when Roche's case goes to trial. "This older white guy took matters into his own hands and took the life of this young African-American teen," he explained. "But as far as the prosecution goes, if everything I'm hearing is true, then I simply think the family will get justice. I think there can be no way possible that a jury would think this guy was defending himself, according to the story so far."
As one criminal defense attorney told me, the major difference between the two cases is that there are multiple witnesses, including Ortiz's friends and Roche's father, to the events leading up to the shooting, as well as the cell phone video that's been obtained by APD. That's a far cry from the Martin case, where Zimmerman's version of the events was the only one to survive the encounter. Another attorney said a successful self-defense argument would require dog whistles to trigger racial bias within the jury, a tactic that isn't likely to work in Travis County.
The Texas Gun Owner's Guide notes that deadly force in self-defense is only justified when someone is "about to kill or maim you unlawfully," which doesn't appear to be what occurred, according to APD's arrest affidavit, which says Roche shot Ortiz just after the teen engaged in a brief shoving match with Roche's father. That wouldn't justify a shooting, either; the manual also notes that state law allows for a person to protect another person from "the use of unlawful deadly force."