Skip to comments.Justifiable homicides nearly triple after Florida 'Stand Your Ground' law passed
Posted on 06/10/2012 4:26:01 AM PDT by marktwain
DAYTONA BEACH -- Charles Robbins stumbled to his feet as someone pounded on his door.
Outside the Woodland Avenue residence stood 24-year-old Tyler Orshoski, a career criminal who police believe was ready to strike again.
The 82-year-old man grabbed a World War II-era Russian-built Tokerev, walked to the door and fired once.
"I did what I had to do and I would do it again," the Daytona Beach man said.
Minutes later, Orshoski lay dead on Robbins' porch. Robbins was never charged.
The shooting is one of numerous killings in Volusia and Flagler counties from 2005 to 2012 carried out in the name of self-defense and covered under Florida's controversial statute known as "stand your ground, " according to a News-Journal analysis.
State records show justifiable homicides nearly tripled in the five years after stand your ground passed compared to the previous five years. The number of concealed weapons permits almost quadrupled in the same time period.
In Volusia and Flagler, four out of six people who killed their would-be attackers were never charged or convicted.
The 7-year-old law is under intense scrutiny after unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer and concealed weapons permit licensee George Zimmerman. The 28-year-old Zimmerman said the teen attacked him, but Martin's family claims the boy was killed in cold blood.
Zimmerman initially wasn't arrested by Sanford police, only to be charged with second-degree murder by the State Attorney's Office following weeks of nationwide protests.
Since the Feb. 26 killing of Martin, some have lined up against stand your ground, claiming the law discourages restraint and has led to unnecessary deaths. Gun rights advocates and the bill's co-sponsor, though, believe the law deters crime and allows people like Robbins the right to protect themselves from an imminent threat.
"If you empower people to stop violent acts, they can, they will and they did," said state Rep. Dennis Baxley, who co-sponsored the stand your ground statute.
'WE NEEDED TO STAND WITH THEM'
Passed in 2005, the stand your ground statute was meant to clarify how citizens could act in the face of danger. It was driven mostly by fears from hurricane-weary residents, and that fear was reinforced after watching TV coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, said Baxley, an Ocala Republican.
"People were highly sensitized about that and were worried about protecting themselves and their property," he said.
Until stand your ground was passed, citizens and homeowners were governed by the "castle doctrine," rooted in English common law, which allows someone to protect themselves or their property if backed into a corner.
But the castle doctrine left a lot of gray area, Baxley said.
"Generally, people had a duty to retreat," he said. "But that only gave people seconds to decide whether they wanted to be a victim or not.
"We needed to stand with them and tell them they weren't going to be treated like criminals."
Since the law went into effect, justifiable homicides have risen drastically, according to statistics kept by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
From 2000 to the end of 2005, when stand your ground passed, there were 78 killings that were deemed justified.
In the six years after the law was passed, 228 people were killed by citizens acting in self-defense-- about one justified homicide every 10 days.
Dan Gross, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Campaign, a pro-gun control advocacy group, said stand your ground created a mentality of fear and paranoia -- a deadly combination for someone carrying a weapon.
"It was a recipe for disaster," he said.
An analysis by The Daytona Beach News-Journal of its news archives and police records found that since 2005, lethal force was used and claimed by someone as self-defense in at least 11 cases. There are likely more.
The State Attorney's Office -- or any state agency for that matter -- does not keep track of cases covered under the stand your ground statute.
Matt Phillips, an assistant public defender in Volusia County, said it's likely that well over 100 stand your ground cases have been recorded across the state. A Tampa Bay Times analysis puts the number near 200.
"It was a big change to Florida law when it passed," Phillips said. "It took the castle doctrine onto the street."
Circuit Judge Joseph Will, who has never presided over a stand your ground case but has studied the law, said the statute essentially makes it easier for people to shoot first and ask for forgiveness later.
"I think it's a bad idea in a society where someone is packing heat on every corner to make it easier to shoot each other," he said.
Volusia County's first fatal self-defense case covered by the law came less than a year after it passed. Luis Perez was ambushed outside his aunt's Deltona home by a man, identified by authorities as Roberto Legarreta, 37, armed with a large knife, said sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson. The 28-year-old Perez tried to start his vehicle, but couldn't and instead opened fire. Legarreta suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died at the scene.
Deputies ruled the shooting was justified and Perez was never charged.
In the following years, seven more people would be exonerated under the law. They include two local residents who warded off intruders.
Walter Watson, 70, shot and injured 28-year-old Thomas Andrew Lockhart, an intruder who threatened to kill Watson in 2007, according to an incident report from Daytona Beach police.
Officers say Watson was staying in a shed on the property when he heard a noise and he grabbed a .38-caliber revolver and flashlight. Lockhart told Watson to turn off the flashlight or "I'll kill you." Watson shot the intruder in the arm and chest, police said. Lockhart, who survived, was charged with burglary. He pleaded no contest and was later sentenced to two years in prison. Watson was not charged.
In 2009, 34-year-old Ormond Beach resident Dayne Rollins was involved in a shootout with three suspects who broke into Rollins' home looking for money and prescription drugs, according to an incident report.
The three suspects, who were grazed by bullets in the shooting, were charged with home invasion robbery. Rollins wasn't charged in the shooting, though he was arrested for possession of a short-barreled shotgun. Court records show prosecutors declined to pursue the case and it was dropped.
In a more recent case in Flagler County, Paul Miller also claims self-defense, though his case doesn't appear to be as clear cut.
Police say Miller, 65, opened fire March 14 on his Flagler Beach neighbor Dana Mulhall after an argument over Miller's barking dogs, police said. Authorities say Miller shot Mulhall five times, including twice in the back as he fled.
Miller is charged with second-degree murder, though his attorney has declined to say whether stand your ground will be invoked in court.
GUNS, KNIVES AND A 2-BY-4
Of the 11 Volusia and Flagler self defense cases, eight of them involved firearms. Four of the shooters, three with lengthy criminal histories, at the time held a concealed weapons permit, a license that has caught on like a wildfire with Florida residents after stand your ground was passed.
In 1988, there were 32,814 valid concealed weapons permits statewide; 56 of these were in Flagler County and 843 of them were issued in Volusia, according to the Division of Licensing.
Nearly 25 years later, the state has issued close to 1 million concealed weapons permits and about 1 in 19 Volusia County residents -- 26,365 -- were licensed to carry a concealed weapon as of May 31. One in 17 or 5,450 Flagler residents have a concealed weapons permit.
In the five years before stand your ground was passed, a combined 136,944 additional permits were issued statewide. In the five years after the law passed, the number of concealed weapons permits nearly quadrupled -- with a combined 446,521 licenses being issued, according to state records.
Baxley said people are arming themselves because now they know they can put up a fight. According to the Division of Licensing, concealed weapon licensees can carry a firearm in most public areas, except for places like a courtroom, jail, bar or school.
"Criminals don't know which person will defend themselves and which ones won't," Baxley said.
But Gross of the Brady Campaign said Florida's gun laws make it easy for firearms to fall into the wrong hands.
"It's beyond easy to get a gun permit," he said.
Concealed weapons permits, though, cover all types of weapons, not just guns. While lethal force self-defense cases involving firearms garner the most notoriety, there are some local cases that involved other types of weapons including knives and a wooden board.
- In 2010, Vincent Strollo, 52, who was from Daytona Beach at the time, bashed James Houghtaling in the face with a 2-by-4, claiming to police he was defending himself and his girlfriend from the drunken attacker. Strollo was initially charged with aggravated battery, but a judge ruled he was immune from prosecution, according to court records.
- Also in 2010, John David Falwell claimed Matthew Alcott slammed him to the floor of his Daytona Beach motel room, knocking him unconscious. Police said when the 40-year-old Falwell came to, he swung a knife and stabbed Alcott in the back.
A judge threw out Falwell's self-defense claim and he was later convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
- Cindy Gilliland, 42, testified in court she stabbed her boyfriend Bradley Stradtman to death in self-defense after he slapped her in the mouth and pushed her into a kitchen counter during a 2010 domestic dispute. The judge denied Gilliland's claim, and her second-degree murder trial is scheduled for later this summer.
Public Defender Phillips, whose office is representing Gilliland, said Florida's stand your ground law allowed for a legal avenue for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves.
"People are maybe moving to use deadly force more than they used to," he said. "Theoretically, you could say that's what the Legislature wanted."
But law enforcement officials say it also set a dangerous precedent.
'GOOD LAW USED BY CRIMINALS'
From 2009 to 2010, three people involved in Daytona Beach drug deals fatally shot someone, but only one was charged.
The most recent case involved Emanuel Rivera, who police say shot and killed Lekeefe Lee, 25, after the two argued about a marijuana sale. Rivera initially told detectives Lee appeared to reach for a gun, but his story changed over time and he was charged with second-degree murder, said Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood.
In the other cases, Leonard Murphy and Leavitis Golphin were not charged because they said they shot in self-defense and were concealed weapons permit holders, Chitwood said.
Golphin was having marijuana delivered to his Jean Street apartment so he could later sell it, detectives say. As it was being delivered, Armando Navarro Jr., 24, armed with a 9 mm handgun, shot deliveryman Merton Lindsay before he was gunned down by Golphin, according to an incident report.
A year later, police say Tarrence Gatlin, 18, and Murphy met in an apartment complex parking lot for a drug deal involving prescription pills. However, Gatlin tried to rob Murphy without giving him pills.
Murphy shot Gatlin three times, police said, and the killing was cleared through the scope of stand your ground, Chitwood said.
"We have people committing nefarious activities that are running around under the cover of the law," the chief said.
Chitwood is among a growing number in the law enforcement community who believe the law needs to be amended.
"We have a good law that's being used by criminals," Chitwood said.
Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson, a supporter of gun rights, said stand your ground is too broad and would support an amendment to limit the use of it.
"While there's no question that the use of defensive deadly force is absolutely necessary on occasion, there also are other circumstances when confrontations can be resolved without having to take a life," spokesman Davidson wrote on behalf of the sheriff.
Gross said the law sets a dangerous pattern of allowing killers to go free.
"We have people who wouldn't be considered ordinary law-abiding citizens and they're often being exonerated under the law," he said.
Stand your ground drew national criticism after Martin was killed. As thousands rallied across the nation for Zimmerman's arrest, a group of ministers, joined by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, called for stand your ground to be repealed.
"These laws incentivize vigilantism, take-the-law-into-your-own hands, kill or be killed. That's beneath the civility of a great nation," Jackson said, according to multiple media reports.
Before the stand your ground statute was passed, it was left up to a jury and common sense to determine who was defending themselves and who wasn't, Judge Will said.
But now people who invoke the stand your ground statute have the right to a hearing before a judge and can be given immunity based on a "preponderance of evidence," making it easier for someone to prove they acted within the law, Phillips said.
"We had a law that had been used for well over 100 years, it was time-tested and worked for everyone," Will said of the castle doctrine. "Someone decided to fix something that wasn't broken and they fixed it badly."
PUBLIC FAVORS LAW
State Rep. Baxley admits he's disappointed in some of the applications of stand your ground, but that is to be expected with any new law.
"No matter what the law is, there's going to be close calls that will be near the foul line," he said. "It is in or is it out?"
Baxley is one of 17 members appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, which will meet for the first time at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Seminole County. The state representative was quick to point out the committee will not just review the stand your ground law, but all aspects of safety.
"I truly believe the law has saved lives," he said. "I'm not going to change anything that diminishes safety."
But Gross of the Brady Campaign said to save lives stand your ground must go or Florida's legislators need to strengthen the state's gun laws.
"Since stand your ground has passed, Florida has become one of the most dangerous states in the country while the others got safer," he said. "There is a dangerous mentality that has led to unnecessary tragedies."
Though stand your ground has been questioned on a national level, it appears to be well-liked by a majority of Florida's voters, according to a recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University. About 56 percent support the law and 35 percent oppose it, the poll shows.
Forrest Buckwald, owner of Buck's Gun Rack who also has a concealed weapons license, said he believes stand your ground empowers older people and others to protect themselves.
"I don't think I can stand up in a fistfight anymore," said the 60-year-old store owner. "The only reason I carry a gun is so that if my life is in immediate danger I can defend myself. It's important to have this law to avoid being charged as a criminal."
Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk has had a concealed weapons permit since the 1990s when some would-be robbers drove up next to him while he was about to make a deposit and demanded his money. The mayor said he carries his weapon as a precaution but tries to avoid situations where his firearm may be needed.
"I'd rather find another way, but I don't want to see them take that right away," he said.
Gross said had stand your ground not been passed, it's likely Trayvon Martin would be alive today.
"If Zimmerman didn't get out of his truck; if he didn't have a gun; it would have never happened," he said.
Charles Robbins said he has no regrets about the fatal shot he delivered earlier this year -- law or not. He believes had he used restraint, he may be dead today.
"I'm glad I did it, and I would do it again," he said. "What would you do if someone tried breaking into your house?"
Orshoski, a "career criminal" according to the article open.
I'd call that a good kill, way to clean up the scumballs.
I live with my mother and sister and we are probably the last people in the state without a gun.
My mother will not allow one in the house,which is silly.
G-d-forbid we need one.
I think it’s hysterical when someone f***s with an elderly person and gets what’s comin’ to them.
Don’t worry the government will protect you
The same thing happened in Detroit except for the fact that shooter and “receiver” tend to be the same race.
If Trayvon had not ATTACKED Zimmerman, he would be alive today
And, when surveyed, the folks in Florida say leave the law as is...70% - 30%.
The left absolute HATE these laws. They want Americans to be a punch of cowering pansies like the Brits have been reduced to.
To them 100 dead or raped victims is preferable to 1 unjustified shooting in self-defense. It’s essentially the way they feel about the death penalty, but twisted around.
The only way to fight them and beat them on this issue is to make sure that EVERY good guy spends at least some time on the range holding and firing a gun. They make nice wedding gifts too.
“I think its hysterical when someone f***s with an elderly person and gets whats comin to them.”
The most effective form of justice is that which is carried out upon the would-be perpetrator by the intended victim at the scene of the crime.
Swift, usually permanent, and sends a nice message to idiots thinking about trying their luck to boot.
“They want Americans to be a punch of cowering pansies like the Brits have been reduced to.”
We’ve come around a bit since the coalition gov’t issued “guidance” that people who kill in self-defence inside their homes should not be prosecuted provided they were in reasonable fear of their lives.
There have now been several cases where people have gone free after stabbing home-invasion burglars and attempted strong-armed robbers to death.
Of course the firearms laws are absolutely idiotic in that they guarantee its impossible to use one in a realistic home-defense scenario and unfortunately I don’t see any relief on the horizon.
I love to shoot (spent 20 years in the US) but refuse to apply for a permit here because getting one gives the police the right to enter your home at any time, at their sole discretion, to inspect your storage locker (which must be government approved and kept locked). They can also seize your guns at any time, for literally any reason, again at their discretion.
Its absolute madness.
I don't see anything here about someone who wasn't engaged in a plausibly threatening assault getting killed as a result of SYG and the killer let off the hook on the same account. This is a vast insult to the memory of Mr. Brady, who was injured by shots fired at Ronald Reagan by a nut.
Zimmerman...that was the guy that got his head bashed....acted in self defense...PERIOD.
If Tray was a good boy, he would have been in school.
And Tray's own web site speaks volumes...along with the "practice street fighting" video.
“Leonard Murphy and Leavitis Golphin were not charged because they said they shot in self-defense and were concealed weapons permit holders, Chitwood said.
Golphin was having marijuana delivered to his Jean Street apartment so he could later sell it...”
Persons involved in illegal activties, in this case drug sales, should not be protected by SYG, or possess Concealed Carry permits.
True enough, the law didn’t figure in the Tray/Zimm altercation.
I’d disagree about there being “no need” for it, as the body of judge made law was trending against 2nd amendment rights. This law ratified what ought to have been common sense but which became uncommon.
BTW, I do not believe, any longer, that marijuana should be illegal.
I do not like or respect illicit drug users but I no longer believe the government has a right or need to restrict marijuana....they can tax it like everything else.
No, there was a need for the law. It prevents the perp’s family from filing suit and you get two bites at the apple to defend yourself in court, once before a judge, and once before a judge and jury.
As odious as it may seem, this is one less druggy on the streets even if another one got off scot free for doing it. This is called giving the devil the benefit of law (google “all the laws being flat”).
At the time this law was enacted, the law abiding citizen desparately needed the protection this law offered.
However, it was not universally appreicated.Among its foes were Liberals, some Sheriffs,some Police Chiefs, State Attorneys, newspaper editoral boards, etal.
Here is what the law does. It prevents a Leftist sheriff/prosecutor from arresting you and making you stand trial to prove that it was self-defense, and it also prevents the perp or their family from suing you. Something that is financially devastating to most people.
The law came about, because it was necessary to keep the government in check.
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