Texas Jury Acquits Father, Raises Questions About Moral Responsibility vs. Legal Liability

Dana Hinders

On Wednesday, 32-year old Texas father David Barajas was acquitted of killing Jose Banda in a hit of rage after Banda killed his two young sons in a drunk driving accident. The jury deliberated for roughly three hours before returning the verdict.

In 2012, 20-year-old Banda had a BAC that was twice the legal limit when he drove his Chevrolet Malibu into 11-year-old Caleb and 12-year-old David Jr. The children were helping to push their father's stalled Ford F-250 truck back to their home and were less than 150 yards from their driveway when they were hit. Caleb was pronounced dead at the scene, while David Jr. died shortly after arriving at Memorial Hermann Hospital. Their father had only minor injuries. Their mother, Cindy, their 8 year-old sister, and their 3-month old brother were inside the truck at the time of the accident and were not hurt.

Banda was found critically injured inside his vehicle a short time later, but was unable to provide a statement to the authorities before he passed away. Banda had one prior conviction for evading arrest in 2010, but was also the father of an infant daughter.

Barajas' trial was complicated by high emotions on both sides and a lack of concrete evidence as to what really transpired that night. Police testified that a bullet fragment found in Banda's car could have come from a.357 caliber gun. There was ammunition for a gun matching that description in the Barajas home, but the police were unable to produce a murder weapon. Barajas had no gunpowder residue on his hands and there were no witnesses willing to testify as to the events of the night.

Defense attorneys argued that Barajas did not have enough time to retrieve a gun and shoot Banda before authorities arrived at the scene of the accident. Dash cam video from the patrol vehicle investigating the crash was played at the trial, in which mother Cindy Barajas is heard screaming, "No, not my babies." Barajas was facing life in prison if he had been convicted.

Throughout the trial, Barajas had the support of many residents of the town of Alvin. Located about 30 miles southeast of Houston, Alvin has a population of just under 25,000 -- including many parents who could easily sympathize with a father who had just lost two of his children in a tragic accident.

Some legal experts have stated that cases like these are exceptionally hard to try because jurors make decisions based on moral responsibility instead following the letter of the law. A similar case occurred in Texas in 2012 when a grand jury declined to indict a father who killed the man who had molested his child.

[Photo courtesy of Tori Rector via Flickr.]