Henry Goedrich Magee, the man who shot and killed a Texas Deputy Sheriff during the execution of a search warrant, has escaped a capital murder charge. Attorney Dick DeGuerin made the case, before a grand jury, that McGee did not know that a SWAT team was entering his house and thought he was the victim of a home invasion.
Magee, 28, has past drug-related and DUI convictions – including a felony. He lived with his pregnant girlfriend in a house about 90 miles north of Houston. The Burleson County Sheriff’s Office obtained a search warrant for Magee’s home, suspecting that he was in possession of narcotics and possibly illegal firearms. Shortly before 6am on the morning of December 19, 2013, a SWAT team broke through Magee’s front door. This was what is known as a “no-knock warrant,” so the Texan man has no idea the police were entering his house. It appears unclear as to whether or the officers identified themselves when they made the entry. Magee, fearing this was a home invasion, grabbed a rifle and fatally shot 31-year-old Deputy Adam Sowders.
On February 5, Magee faced a grand jury and the prospect of being charged with capital murder. If convicted, he would have faced life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or a death sentence. The jury declined to hand down the murder charge as there was no evidence to prove that Magee had been aware law enforcement officers were serving a warrant. THe was, however, charged with a third degree felony for being in possession of marijuana whilst so being in possession of firearms. Immediately after the shooting, Magee was taken into custody and officers recovered a small number of marijuana plants and seedlings from the house, in addition to four firearms – all of which were legally owned. Although Magee was a felon, under Texas law, a felon may own a firearm if five years have elapsed since their sentence was completed.
Speaking to the media after the grand jury decision, Magee’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said “This was a terrible tragedy that a deputy sheriff was killed, but Hank Magee believed that he and his pregnant girlfriend were being robbed.” Burleson County District Attorney Julie Renken, said that she believed the sheriff’s office acted correctly at the time. She went on to say that her office intends to “fully prosecute” the possession charge. Magee is currently in custody but is expected to be released soon, on bond.
The case brings to light, once again, the question of the conduct of some law enforcement agencies. One has to ask why a SWAT team is conducting a forced entry on a house occupied by a man with no known history of violence. By any reasonable standards, the life of a Deputy Sheriff is not worth an armed confrontation with a man who is suspected of nothing more than being in possession of a relatively small amount of a substance – one that has now been legalized in some parts of the country. The other question is whether or not law enforcement officers can reasonably expect to be met with armed resistance if they force their way into a private residence. The answer, of course, is yes; private citizens has every right to defend themselves. If police officers or sheriffs enter a private residence unannounced, they should expect to come under fire. So-called no-knock warrants should be issued in circumstances when it is known that the occupants of a building are armed and dangerous. Had only two or three deputies knocked on Magee’s door to execute the search warrant, it is highly unlikely that any shots would have been fired.
Henry Magee appears to have acted in defense of himself and his girlfriend. DeGuerin says that this is the first time he can recall a Texas grand jury refusing to indict a defendant in the killing of a law enforcement officer. Magee must surely consider himself fortunate to have escaped a capital murder charge in the killing of a Texas Deputy Sheriff. This outcome, however, is highly significant; it shows that private citizens are, indeed, allowed to defend themselves – even against the police.
The continued militarization of law enforcement agencies is something that should cause concern for all Americans. “Serve and Protect” appears to have become “Suspect and Persecute” in many parts of the US. Law enforcement is a difficult and dangerous occupation and most officers conduct themselves in an honorable and law-abiding manner. This incident serves as a timely reminder, however, that law enforcement officers are, in fact, subject to the same legal system as everyone else. Adam Sowders, a respected ten-year veteran, was not the victim of a violent criminal; he was the victim of unnecessary heavy-handedness on the part of his agency and also, perhaps, of inadequate training.
Apparently, Sowders was an investigator with the Sheriff’s Department and had recently been promoted to Sergeant. He, himself, had requested the search warrant.
Editorial by Graham J Noble