You can hang on in Texas. Even when you kill a cop. – Texas monthly
The people of Midland love their cops. They also love their guns. But what happens when these two feelings collide? Specifically, what happens when a landlord legally defending his family shoots and kills a man he thinks is an intruder and that man turns out to be a cop?
This terrible chain of events happened in Midland in the wee hours of March 5, 2019. At 1:16 a.m., the police were informed by their dispatcher that an alarm had gone off at David Wilson’s lavish home. , a self-made oil tanker, in a Tony neighborhood in the north of the city. Officer Nathan “Hayden” Heidelberg and a recruit named Victoria Allee arrived, walked around the house and checked the back door, which they found locked. Then they went to the front, where Allee pushed the lever on the handle of the nine foot stainless steel door with opaque glass windows. A voice alarm sounded and Heidelberg closed the door. At this point, two more officers had arrived. Heidelberg reopened the door, turned on his flashlight inside and announced: “Midland Police, come at the sound of my voice.” Moments later, a gunshot was fired, hitting Heidelberg in the wrist and then in the chest. He fell and his friends rushed him. Unfortunately, the injury was fatal and Heidelberg died in hospital an hour later. Wilson, 37, was arrested and charged with manslaughter for “recklessly” causing Heidelberg’s death.
Both men were popular in the Midland area. Wilson grew up in Snyder, 88 miles south, where his father was an oilman. He dreamed of creating his own oil company, and at the age of twenty, in 2003, he realized: Unitex Oil & Gas. He married his high school girlfriend Amy and the couple had three daughters. The couple taught Sunday School at First Baptist Church, where he was a deacon. And his business has been so successful …with 1,500 wells and 80 employees– that he bought a $ 6,985 million-dollar, 2.5-acre mansion at the end of a cul de sac.
Heidelberg, 27 when he died, had been in the service for five years. A boy from his hometown, he graduated from Midland College in 2011. He was a hardworking hardworking cop who also attended First Baptist and enjoyed sitting with friends and playing the guitar. Heidelberg became the first Midland policeman to die in the line of duty since 1966; in the process, flags were raised half-length and his patrol car was parked in front of the police station, where the mourners decorated with flowers. Heidelberg boss, police chief Seth Herman, I called him “Courageous, altruistic, ethical and professional”; At the funeral, Herman added, “As much as I try, I’ll never be a man as good as Hayden.” Governor Abbott presented his family with a Star of Texas award to the state Capitol, and a section of FM 307 near the police department was named Officer Hayden Heidelberg Memorial Highway.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, murder has been a main topic of conversation in Midland. But according to Craig Anderson, host of a talk show on the conservative KWEL-AM, there was little anger. “Everyone was in the middle, supporting law enforcement and supporting your right to defend your property. The gun-friendly Texas has both a ‘stand firm’ law and a ‘castle doctrine’, which means that you can, respectively, defend yourself and your house (or castle) with a lethal force, as long as you reasonably believe such force is necessary. .
Often times, cases like Wilson’s go undetected. Prosecutors are reluctant to bring them against someone who appears to have defended themselves and their home. But Republican District Attorney Laura Nodolf appeared determined to bring Wilson to justice. This fall, more than 700 potential jurors were called for the jury, the largest in the history of Midland County. Unfortunately, the gathering in a small space led to an outbreak of COVID (the judge was hospitalized) and the trial was suspended. Then, on October 28, Wilson’s team of four lawyers were shocked when Nodolf announced that the state would re-indict Wilson, this time for first degree murder. Now the indictment said he “intentionally and knowingly” caused Heidelberg’s death.
The trial, which began on November 30, has been one of the largest in years. Every day the courtroom was filled with visitors and supporters from both families, who learned how the murder had been triggered by a mechanical error. The initial alarm turned out to be a false response – an error response interpreted by the security monitoring company as an ongoing burglary, which was subsequently reported to the police. But the company did not alert Wilson that the police were on their way. A minute and a half after sending the font, another test was performed on the system, and this time no errors were reported. But no one contacted the police to let them know the security system was in trouble and there may not be a burglary going on. (The Heidelberg family and Wilson both sued the surveillance company and the company that installed the security system.)
Wilson and his wife spoke on Tuesday. Amy said the door alarm triggered by Constable Allee woke her up and alerted her husband. Then they ran to the bedroom closet, where they kept a Glock 19 on a high shelf, away from their children. Wilson had to lift Amy up to grab her. Both swore that they had never heard Heidelberg announce itself (the closet was forty feet from the front door), but that they could see figures through the door windows and hear muffled voices. – Wilson thought he even heard one of them speak Spanish. Pistol in hand, Wilson made his way to the front door and fired a shot at the figure in the doorway. Then he slammed the door and Amy called 911.
On Wednesday, both sides made their closing arguments and 25 of the Heidelberg brothers, all in uniform, joined the SRO crowd. But it only took 90 minutes for the jury to rule: not guilty. When Wilson heard the verdict, he burst into tears. “It was not a vote against law enforcement,” Brian Carney, one of Wilson’s attorneys told me, “it was not a disapproval of the police. It was an approval of what the law provides. He added, “Nobody won. Despite the fact that Mr. Wilson has been acquitted, he will be in a prison of his mind every day. Everywhere he goes, people will say, ‘This is the guy who shot that cop.’ ”
The next morning, callers lined up to take part in Anderson’s morning talk show on KWEL-AM. Most of them called it all a tragedy and refused to point fingers. “There are so many injuries on both sides,” Anderson said. He told a caller, speaking of the heavy burden of responsibility that comes with keeping guns in your home, “You have to be so careful.” The caller agreed, saying, “If you see someone in your yard at 3 am with a flashlight, don’t shoot. It could be a lady looking for her dog, or a boy looking for her soccer ball, or it could be a cop. But what the hell do you do when it’s in the doorway? Fuckin ‘smoke, what a horrible, horrible, horrible. . . it’s just awful.
Anderson summed up the Midland – West Texas state of mind. “Most people think it was a terrible thing – a lot of suffering on both sides here. You must be aware of the law. A lot of people have guns in West Texas. It puts people in a dilemma because the folks in West Texas certainly support law enforcement – a big time. And in the same vein, we all believe in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. But of course if you want to have guns you better know the law, you better know what you can and can’t do, and you better know this gun. There are so many things. “
While all of the appellants have supported the fundamental right to be armed in the home, not everyone in Midland thinks this is a good idea. One of those people is Sara Spector, a longtime local defense lawyer who also served as an assistant district attorney for seventeen years. “I am very much in favor of law enforcement,” she told me, “but I am against defending your position and the castle doctrine. They can lead to the unnecessary deaths of police officers, the people who protect us. When the police are called to people’s homes, it’s already a very busy situation where people’s adrenaline goes up and they don’t think properly, and no matter how well-trained the police are, they know that no matter what. which of them could be shot, just as Hayden Heidelberg was, in a very tragic situation. And it will happen again, I promise you.
Carney agrees that there is a certain fatality to this kind of tragedy in a community like Midland, where so many people have guns. “If you walk into someone’s house uninvited at night in Texas,” he told me, “bad things happen”. This, of course, is only part of the way of life in many parts of the state. The real question, he said, is, “If it had been someone other than a cop, would we even have had this conversation?” “