How ‘Stand Your Ground’ law erodes a homicide probe

How ‘Stand Your Ground’ law erodes a homicide probe

Robin Blackburn and Rasha Elass write:

In the early hours of Oct. 11, 2021, in the rural town of Martindale, Texas, Terry Turner, a 65-year-old local, shot and killed an unarmed man who was sitting in a vehicle. Turner then called 911 and said he just “shot a guy,” claiming his victim had a gun.

The victim was 31-year-old Moroccan national and U.S. immigrant Adil Dghoughi, a recent business school graduate who was in the midst of looking for a job while moonlighting as an Uber driver. He died from a bullet wound to the head. He also had a defensive wound to his left hand, as if he had raised it to protect himself before he was shot through the driver’s-side window at close range.

Dghoughi had no gun, according to police who arrived at the scene. He was pronounced dead later that morning at the hospital.

Local authorities did not immediately arrest Turner, who has a prior conviction for committing larceny decades earlier, according to documents found by New Lines. Instead, they relinquished within hours of the shooting what was possibly one of the most important pieces of evidence in this case: the car in which Dghoughi was shot, still covered with his fresh blood. Caldwell County deputies had impounded it after arriving at the scene of the shooting, but they returned it to its owner, Sarah Todd, who was Dghoughi’s girlfriend, before the day’s end in a move that has shocked some observers.

“I’m stunned that she got it back in 12 hours,” said Melba Pearson, the Florida-based co-chair of the American Bar Association Prosecution Function Committee and a former homicide prosecutor. “Because you don’t know what’s going to be relevant later down the line. You take pictures and preserve evidence as best you can. But when I was prosecutor, I’d go to the yard and look at the car — understand the angle of the bullet. Where did it hit? What side was it on? What kind of car was it? Was it a truck? So many different variables that you need to understand to present the case effectively to the jury.”

Even Turner’s defense attorney found cause for raised eyebrows. Asked during a phone interview if he thought it was unusual for the police to return evidence so quickly to its owner, he said: “That’s somewhat surprising, yes.” And when asked whether he thought this could help his client at trial, he said: “It may.”

After relinquishing key evidence, the Caldwell County deputies then launched an investigation into the victim’s background, issuing six search warrants to look into Dghoughi’s Google searches, social media accounts and related metadata, documents obtained by New Lines show.

The police also breached data on the victim’s phone without obtaining a search warrant, citing a law that applies to “abandoned property.”

As Dghoughi’s brother Othman struggled to navigate the justice system in Texas, the police grilled him on the victim’s character and habits. [Continue reading…]

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