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Fireworks Dispute in Texas on Fourth of July Ends in a Murder Charge

When he spoke with the police in Austin, Texas, on July 4, Jason Roche said he had fatally shot Devonte Ortiz in self-defense.

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Daniel Victor
, New York Times

When he spoke with the police in Austin, Texas, on July 4, Jason Roche said he had fatally shot Devonte Ortiz in self-defense.

Specifically, Roche said Ortiz, 19, had been reaching for a gun during an argument about fireworks.

But the police said that cellphone videos from two witnesses raise doubts about his claim of self-defense: Ortiz was not holding a gun. And the authorities said that findings from the Travis County medical examiner suggest that Ortiz was running away from Roche — not toward him, as he had told the police.

Roche, 41, was arrested on Friday and charged with first-degree murder. He was being held in Travis County Jail with bail set at $250,000.

Ortiz was a 2017 graduate of Travis High School. His family said he was an honor roll student and, according to The Austin American-Statesman, he attended Blinn College for a few semesters before moving back home with his family.

“We are in a time of deep mourning,” Paula Watrous, his grandmother, told reporters, according to the newspaper. She said he was “very much loved in this community, in these housing projects, by the schools, everywhere, all across East Austin.”

According to an arrest affidavit, the police were called at 1:26 a.m. on July 4 with a report that Roche had been pointing a gun at Ortiz at an apartment complex. One minute later, the police got another call, saying Ortiz had been shot.

Ortiz was transported to a hospital, where he was declared dead at 2:12 a.m.

Roche told the police that he had asked Ortiz and his friends earlier in the night to stop setting off fireworks, according to the affidavit. He said that the group had continued to do so, and that the deadly confrontation had happened after he went back out a second time.

Roche said that he shot Ortiz as he reached for a gun.

The cellphone videos show Roche and Ortiz in an argument, with Roche displaying his gun, re-holstering it and displaying it several times, according to the affidavit. Roche followed Ortiz around a car as they argued.

Roche’s father, Dennis Roche, tried to intervene, according to the affidavit. The elder Roche and Ortiz began arguing and shoving each other, and at one point Ortiz shoved him to the ground, the police said.

Jason Roche responded by shooting Ortiz, the police said. Ortiz was not holding a gun at the time, according to the affidavit.

The police said they later found an AR-15-style rifle in the area, though it was unclear whom it belonged to.

Roche’s family and friends gathered on Friday for a vigil at the football stadium, where he starred as a high school athlete.

“He’s one of those guys who comes to the program that, as a coach, you love having that type of player, because for one, are you going to coach him, but he’s going to teach you some things about life,” said Joseph Rauls, his coach, according to KXAN, a local TV station. “He was one of those young men that doesn’t come on every year. You see how he develops through the program, and you just look forward to seeing him become a good young man and have his own family and be a good community leader, and that was taken away.”

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