(CN) - A Texas convenience store cannot be held liable for the rape and murder of a customer who met her killer at the store, a state appeals court ruled.
Ernesto Reyes met Melanie Therese Goodwin at a QuikTrip store in September 2007. She was buying food for her boyfriend after promoting Red Bull for a midnight video game release.
Reyes was at the store for almost an hour for Melanie's arrival. He had just been dumped by his on-again-off-again girlfriend Andrea the day before, and was using the store's cordless phone in an unsuccessful attempt to have Andrea come pick him up.
Reyes explained to the store's assistant manager, Chinedu Anyadike, that his mother had kicked him out of the house for beating up his brother.
Anyadike shot down Reyes' request to sleep at the store, but he gave the man his own food and a fountain drink from the store.
Reyes told Anyadike that he had pending warrants for his arrest but did not mention specific crimes, and the store manager tried to help Reyes get a ride from Andrea.
Andrea refused again, saying Reyes had stolen her car, but Reyes said he had only borrowed it.
Though Reyes did not interact with most of the store's other customers, Anyadike heard him ask Melanie for a ride as she made her way to the register.
Melanie, whom the ruling describes as "bubbly and energetic," was on the phone with her boyfriend during the interaction.
Anyadike said she seemed "kind of hesitant" to help Reyes, but he gathered that she had relented since the pair drove away together.
The ruling says Melanie did not tell her boyfriend about giving Reyes a ride, and that she said the words "pretty normal" just before leaving the store.
Andrea called the store and said she was coming to get Reyes, but Anyadike responded that he had already left.
Police eventually found Melanie's car in a parking lot. Reyes had raped Melanie and "brutally murdered" her by blunt force and strangulation.
He dragged her body to a ditch and burned it, then fled to Mexico, but returned and given a life sentence.
Melanie's parents, Glenn and Peggy Goodwin, sued QuikTrip for wrongful death and premises liability. A jury in Denton County found Reyes 71 percent at fault and Melanie 1 percent at fault.
Finding QuikTrip 28 percent responsible, the jury ordered it to pay the Goodwins $2.2 million.
QuikTrip appealed, arguing that it did not have the duty to protect Melanie from Reyes. A three-justice panel of the Fort Worth-based Second District Court of Appeals reversed for QuikTrip on Nov. 13.
The severity and the nature of Reyes' crime were not foreseeable, according to the ruling.
"He did not, for example, make inappropriate sexual remarks or acts to women, physically accost any of the several women who entered the store before Melanie, or express thoughts about violence," Chief Justice Terrie Livingston wrote for the court.
Livingston therefore rendered a take-nothing judgment, ruling that QuikTrip could not be held liable for Melanie's death.
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