Sunday, October 01, 2006

One Year After Florida Law Took Effect, Six Dead, Two Others Wounded, and Killers Hoping to Walk Away Scot Free

One Year After Florida Law Took Effect, Six Dead, Two Others Wounded, and Killers Hoping to Walk Away Scot Free

Contact: Peter Hamm of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 202-289-5792

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The following was released today by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:

A year ago, when Florida became the first state in America to implement what the gun lobby calls the "Stand Your Ground" law and what others called the "Shoot First" law, opponents of the law said it would empower overly aggressive individuals to use more force than necessary, and because it could also weaken the criminal penalties against some individuals who ought to be punished severely for their actions.

Both those assertions have proven true. In five highly questionable Florida deaths, the law is being used by killers in efforts to avoid conviction for a crime, and one of those deaths predated the law by almost a year. Another homicide, in Kentucky, was downgraded to manslaughter after that state followed Florida's lead and passed an identical statute. In that case, a crack addict used the law to get off with a lighter sentence after beating his drug dealer to death with a lamp.

In Florida, two gang members are using it to avoid conviction for shooting a nine year old girl, a tow truck driver is using it to avoid a murder conviction after shooting an unarmed man whose car had been towed, another man shot a neighbor twice for putting too much garbage out at the curb and a shop owner shot a suspicious character in his store five times. Just two weeks ago, a South Florida man shot his neighbor for walking his dog on his lawn. He's been charged with murder but intends to use a "shoot first" defense.

In another case, a taxi driver who killed an unarmed, nearly incoherently drunk passenger for not getting out of his cab fast enough nearly a year before Florida's law took effect is hoping to be able to use it as a defense because it might get him acquitted

The parents of a young Miami girl who was caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout say they want to collect enough signatures on a petition to get the law repealed, and a Tampa man who is still stunned that the neighbor who shot him hasn't been charged wants to become an activist also. "I want, with every fiber in my being, to have this law changed," wrote Jason Rosenbloom, 30. "It is too vague and too dangerous and allows not only civilians the freedom to shoot, but sociopaths, also."

Following are summaries of most of the cases so far.

-- Sherdavia Jenkins, 9, of Liberty City, Miami died July 1, 2006. Sherdavia was shot on her front porch by a stray bullet from a gunfight between two men. Defendants Damon "Red Rock" Darling and Leroy "Yellowman" Larose intend to use the Shoot First Law as their defense at trial: Since they were firing at each other, whichever is charged with firing the bullet that struck Sherdavia is expected to use the law's blessing of accidentally shooting bystanders while defending oneself to avoid conviction. ( Miami Herald, 8-22-06, )

-- James Adam Clem, 27, beat Keith Newberg to death with a bronze lamp in Clem's apartment on August 9, 2004 in Lexington, Kentucky. This summer, he accepted a manslaughter deal and will be eligible for parole in several months. "One of our concerns was, if we couldn't understand it (the law) ourselves, how are we going to get a jury to understand it?" said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kimberly Henderson Baird. (Lexington Herald Leader, 8-3-06)

-- Robert Lee Smiley Jr. a West Palm Beach taxi driver who killed a drunk fare, Jimmie Morningstar, 43 in November 2004. His first trial ended in a hung jury in June. He is now to start a retrial in December and awaits a Florida Supreme Court ruling next year on whether "Shoot First" applies retroactively. Smiley is arguing the shooting was in self-defense. The prosecutor disagrees "'What he is is a killer,' (prosecutor Andy) Slater told jurors. 'Mr. Smiley was an agitated, angry man with a short fuse.'" (Palm Beach Post, 7-1-06)

-- Kenneth Allen, 58, twice shot his neighbor, Jason Rosenbloom, 30, in early June 2006. Rosenbloom went to Allen's house to complain that Allen had complained to the local government about trash and debris in Rosenbloom's yard. "I was no threat. I had no weapon... He had a gun. I turned around to put my hands up. He didn't even say a word, and he fired once into my stomach. I bent over, and he shot me in the chest," Rosenbloom told the New York Times. (New York Times, 8-7-06)

-- Doug Freeman, shot Vincent Hudson, 26, five times in his electronics store in Jacksonville May 31, 2006 because he was reaching for a bulge in his pocket. Hudson survived. Freeman says he shot and killed another man in self-defense 10 years ago, a shooting in which he wounded his wife. Duval County State Attorney Harry Shorstein has sided with Hudson but said the new law played a role in the decision not to prosecute. "It's caused a general expansion of self defense, which makes all issues of self defense more favorable to the defendant or the suspect than ever before. It's also created a greater propensity to use deadly force than existed before. There's a lesser sensitivity to gun violence and death, and that's not good. The last thing we need in Jacksonville is a greater use of deadly force." ( Florida Times-Union, online/stories/071006/met_22294481.shtml )

-- Michael Brady, 43, shot and killed Justin Boyette, 23, a drunk man, on his lawn in Winter Haven, Florida on April 12, 2006. Boyette's friend, Eric Wagner, said Boyette was not going to strike Brady, but wanted to shake his hand. "A lot of people are going to die as soon as people figure out this law. All you have to say is 'I was afraid,' and you can blow someone away." Brady said "I'm having a hard time dealing with this psychologically. Unfortunately, I had to make a decision that day that changed my life forever. I wish I could turn back time." (Orlando Sentinel, 6-11-06)

-- Donald Montanez, 45, a Tampa tow truck driver, shot and killed Glen Demar Rich in a tow lot Jan. 8, 2006. He was charged with second-degree murder and intends to defend himself under the year-old law. (Tampa Tribune, 2-4-06) "When the victim and three friends arrived to retrieve the car, Montanez pointed a handgun at them. The victim unlocked his vehicle and attempted to drive away. Montanez then fired his weapon - a .40-caliber Sig Sauer with laser sights - shattering the front passenger window and hitting the victim under his right arm." (Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office press release)

-- Christopher Cote, 19, of The Acreage, Florida was shot twice with a shotgun and killed by his neighbor, Jose Tapanes, 62, September 17 after an argument began when Cote walked his dog on Tapanes' property. Tapanes has been charged with first-degree murder and intends to defend himself under the young law. "Tapanes' behavior has concerned (neighbor Wade) Taylor for years. Like the time Tapanes said he thought Osama Bin Laden lived in the home next door. Or when Tapanes yelled at Taylor for cutting his grass because Tapanes wanted it to grow wild so snakes could live there." (Miami Herald, 9-18-06,

As the nation's largest, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence, the Brady Campaign, working with its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters, is devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities.