A grand jury in Texas will have to decide if a father was justified in his attack on an acquaintance he allegedly caught molesting his four-year-old daughter, or whether he used excessive force -- as the alleged perpetrator died as a result of the beating. Many have come to his defense, saying he did the right thing, but experts say there are certain factors to consider.
Investigators handling the case have said it is unlikely that the father, whose identity has not been disclosed, would face any charges in the incident, which unfolded Saturday at the man's ranch in Shiner, Texas, about 130 miles west of Houston.
According to the authorities, the 23-year-old father was hosting a get-together at his ranch when he was reportedly told by another child that the man, also unidentified but said to be 47-years-old and from the nearby town of Gonzalez, had taken his daughter into the brushes. The father told police that he found the man partially clothed and molesting his daughter. He then attacked the man, hitting him numerous times in the head. The alleged child molester died at the scene. Reports indicate that it was the father who was first to call 911 about the beating and alleged molestation. The father was not arrested, according to reports.
Based on general consensus among residents in the small town of Shiner, the little girl's father "did the right thing" and should not be charged with a crime.
"I would have done the same. I have an 11-year-old son myself and if anything would happen to my family I probably would have done worse," one neighbor told local news station KENS-TV.
Sonny Jaehne told the Victoria Advocate that the alleged perpetrator "got what he deserved, big time."
Another Shiner resident, Marlene Jacks, made similar remarks, although she felt the father's actions may have been excessive.
"I was shocked. I didn't like what the father did, but if I saw it happen I would have probably done the same thing. I think the father was justified," Jacks said.
The accused father has reportedly expressed remorse and claimed that he had no intention of killing the man, whose body was still awaiting an autopsy. The lead investigator in the case, Sheriff Micah Harmon, said there was no evidence causing him to question the father's account, and that he thought it unlikely that the man would face any charges.
"He was protecting his daughter and I don't think he knew that the individual would die. He was just doing what he thought he had to do to protect his daughter," said Harmon.
Despite the heinous nature of the alleged crime, some have bristled at the father making himself somewhat of a judge, jury and executioner.
Speaking with FoxNews.com in a Tuesday report, James Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin, said the father had every right to defend his daughter, but had summarily crossed the line.
"Assuming it's true that this guy was molesting the daughter, and we don't know what exactly happened at this point, he would then have the right to defend [her], and hit him enough to have him stop. But you cannot summarily execute him, even though I can understand the anger he would have," Harrington said.
The case has drawn such strong responses that Fox also launched a poll asking readers to weigh in on the father's actions. Of the 66,631 votes recorded by press time Wednesday, 87.89 percent (58,564 votes) agreed with the statement: "He was protecting his daughter, plain and simple. I'd shake his hand." Another 8.84 percent (5,887 votes) agreed with the statement: "Can anyone judge the emotions that drove this poor father?" Only 1,666 readers (2.5 percent) thought, despite their empathy, that the rancher father acted as "judge and executioner."
A grand jury of the man's peers is expected to hear the case and will have to determine if he knowingly crossed the line, or justifiably came to his daughter's defense.
Dr. Robert B. Kruschwitz, Director of the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, told The Christian Post that there are several factors one should take into account before coming to any conclusions about the father's actions.
"This is one of those cases where you'd want to know if there was a fight, or was it pretty much one-sided (with) the father beating this fellow quite a bit," the philosophy professor suggested.
He added, "If we accept this story from the father and the report from the sheriff, there are several questions I think we would have. One is, just how much violence occurred on the part of the father? The person who was killed, the victim, the supposed violator, was beaten around the head several times. ... How much violence was necessary for the purpose of protecting the daughter and stopping whatever continuing violence there might have been from the perpetrator?"
Dr. Kruschwitz also noted that the grand jury would likely have to consider the time lapse between the father supposedly discovering his daughter being abused and when the alleged perpetrator died.
"(We're assuming) that the father sort of struck this fellow in righteous indignation or something," he said. "Did that last a moment and then the fellow was dead? Or, did he beat him for 30 minutes? There's a huge difference there. I think the Christian teaching certainly would say he shouldn't have acted on anger if he had a moment to stop and think about it -- he should have been motivated by justice instead. He shouldn't have let his anger get out of control, if that's what happened here. I think that's where the grand jury needs to investigate."
While acknowledging the sympathetic nature of the case, Dr. Kruschwitz insisted that the father involved and those expressing support for his actions "should see this as a great tragedy. Not only was his daughter perhaps violated, but he (the father) was himself harmed and caused this kind of harm through his anger."