HOUSTON - In an ominous phone call Thursday morning, hours before the robbery at El Ranchito on South Gessner in southwest Houston that would end his life, 30-year-old Eric Eugene Washington promised his mother, Corine Goodman, he would do better.
"Thursday morning was the last time he called me. He said mom, son to mother, I’m trying to be the best person I can be," Goodman said.
Goodman said Washington got a job and welcomed a newborn son four months ago. She said she knew he was struggling financially, but she never realized her son was that desperate for help.
Around 11:30 p.m. Thursday, police say Washington stormed into the taqueria pointing a fake gun and demanded money from customers.
"What he did, I don’t condone. He knew better. He never said anything that made me think he would go this route," Goodman continued. "He started working. He was striving because he said mom when you send someone to penitentiary, it breaks you."
In 2015, records show Washington was convicted of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 15 years in prison in connection to the shooting death of a business owner, 62-year-old Hamid Warrich.
"He was there. He did not kill their father. But he was there, and their father got killed. And for that, I am sorry. I never got to say that to them, but I am sorry for that," Goodman said.
SELF DEFENSE? ATTORNEY WEIGHS IN: Customer fired 9-shots, killed man robbing patrons in Houston taqueria
Washington served seven years in prison and was released on parole. In December, while out on parole, he was charged with assaulting his common-law wife and later bonded out.
"He’s not the monster that people picture him to be," Goodman said.
As the case now turns over to a Harris County grand jury, Goodman has one message for the patron who killed her son.
"I don’t hate him. I can't hate him. But I want to know why didn’t you stop?" she asked. "If you had to kill him, I can deal with that. I can come to grips with that. He did something wrong. I understand that. But for him to be shot four times in the back leaving, and when he falls down, he shoots him four more times? You abused him. He was dead already. And that hurt. That hurts."
So far, the patron has not been arrested or charged. Any criminal charges will be determined by a grand jury. The patron's criminal defense attorney, Juan Guerra Jr., released a statement Monday.
"My Client who wishes to remain anonymous was dining with a friend at El Ranchito Taqueria and as it has been seen on video a robbery suspect entered the restaurant, pointed a weapon at my client and the other customers demanding money. In fear of his life and his friend’s life, my client acted to protect everyone in the restaurant. In Texas, a shooting is justified in self-defense, defense of others, and in defense of property. The customer has met with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and Investigators with HPD homicide. He fully intends to continue cooperating with the ongoing investigation. When the investigation is complete, this case will be presented to a Grand Jury. We are confident that a Grand Jury will conclude that the shooting was justified under Texas Law. This event has been very traumatic, taking a human life is something he does not take lightly and will burden him for the rest of his life. For that reason, he wishes to remain anonymous. Due to the overwhelming coverage, we ask the media and the public to respect his privacy."
Legal analysts like Casey Garrett tell FOX 26, although a fake gun was used during the robbery, there was no way for the customers being robbed to know that the gun was not real. At that moment, they say, the threat was apparent and in moments of panic, adrenaline can often take over.
"The impact of adrenaline; this was a very stressful event," Garrett said. "The important thing to remember is that once somebody has the legal right to act in self-defense and use lethal force in self-defense, then they have the right, whether it's shooting him once or shooting him nine times."