Even though he faced a minimum of 15 years in prison, Paralympic gold medallist sprinter Oscar Pistorius was sentenced today (July 6) by a South African judge to six years in prison for the 2013 Valentine’s Day murder of his girlfriend, 29-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp. It is the latest ruling in a drawn-out case that transfixed the nation.
Every incident of an unarmed person being killed by a weapon is awful, the complexity made worse when it involves stand your ground, and the wounds are never closed in these cases.
Florida leads this pack of several high-profile stand your ground cases that were closed with sentencing or an acquittal:
Trayvon Martin, 17, Florida – On February 26, 2012 America’s most infamous case of stand your ground happened in the small city of Sanford, Florida when an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. Hundreds of others had already been killed under self-defense statutes enacted in 2005.
Since it was the first state to initiate these new laws, it was widely assumed that Zimmerman would be acquitted under stand your ground law. But he never claimed stand your ground immunity. The jury was allowed to hear language from the law, which arguably may have been the basis for an acquittal on July 13, 2013.
Wyche ran, and when Berry – who was not armed – caught up with him, Wyche pulled scissors from a backpack and lunged, stabbing Berry to death.
Wyche, now 25-years-old, claimed immunity under Florida’s stand your ground law, and was denied. He was convicted of manslaughter in September, 2013
and sentenced to 20 1/2 years in prison on November 25, 2013.
Darrell Niles, 17, South Carolina – On April 18, 2010, after a night out in Columbia, Niles, a high school athlete, only wanted to make sure some girls he knew made it home ok. Niles, who was unarmed, was shot and killed as he sat in his car by Shannon Scott, 33, the father of one of the girls.
Kelly Danaher, 36, Texas – On May 1, 2010 in Houston, Raul Rodriguez, 46, a retired firefighter, complained about loud music coming from the birthday party for school teacher Danaher’s 3-year-old child.
Holding a video camera, a phone, and a gun, Rodriguez told a police dispatcher that he felt threatened and said, “I’m standing my ground here” [see the video here] as he fired his gun on a group of unarmed men, killing Danaher and wounding two others. Rodriguez was charged with murder. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison on June 27, 2013.
Tim, Sr. intervened, taking sides with his grandchild’s mother, but Tim, Jr., a high school football star, retaliated by attacking his dad, who retrieved a pistol and fired two rounds, killing Tim, Jr. At a jury trial on February 14, 2013, the father was acquitted of second-degree murder.
Daniel Adkins, Jr., 29, Arizona – On April 3, 2012, Adkins, a disabled Hispanic-American man walking his dog in Phoenix, was shot and killed outside a Taco Bell restaurant by Cordell Jude, a 22 year-old African-American man, after a shouting match caused when Jude’s car almost hit Adkins.
Jude said Adkins swung at him with an object. The only object found on Adkins was a dog leash. Jude was later charged with second-degree murder but found not guilty, but convicted of reckless manslaughter in what is called the “reverse Trayvon Martin” case. UPDATE: Jude received an eight year sentence on February 28, 2014.
Darius Simmons, 13, Wisconsin – On May 31, 2012, in Milwaukee, 75-year-old John Henry Spooner confronted an unarmed teenager about a burglary in which guns were stolen from Spooner’s home. As the teen’s mother watched Spooner shot the youth in the chest, fired another shot that missed, and tried to shoot again but the gun jammed.
Spooner was found guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole, on July 22, 2013, and ordered to pay $58,551 in restitution to the Simmons family.
Walter Conley,32, Florida – On March 10, 2013 in Brandon, Ralph Wald, 70, woke up and found his 40-year-old wife in the living room having sex with Conley, who Wald shot and killed, claiming he thought Conley was raping her. Conley was not armed.
Wald was charged with second-degree murder, but acquitted on May 31, 2013.
(UPDATE: This article has been edited since first publication to omit the words “in 2013” from the second paragraph, and also to add any other updates noted above)
As the trial of Michael Dunn gets underway on February 3, Lucia Mcbath, the mother of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, is making the rounds of network interviews, preparing for Dunn’s trial and telling the story of her fight to change or end stand your ground laws to anyone who’ll listen.
Yet, Mcbath and Jordan’s father Ron Davis have been tirelessly and emotionally sharing their story across the country since the tragedy, to gain support and awareness in the struggle for gun control and against stand your ground laws.
Over 8,000 seats have been reserved in 19 towns for the opening weekend of the independent film “Cry For Justice: Stand Your Ground”, a courtroom drama based on a true story of faith and a journey experienced by Jackie Carpenter, a Georgia woman, as she fights to free her son, Jason Veitch, from felony murder charges.
The movie is scheduled to open in 19 theaters in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas on Friday.
Ironically, Lucia Mcbath, the mother of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, gunned down in Florida in 2012 by 46 year-old Michael Dunn during an argument over loud music, is an actress who has a small role in the film. She plays the fictional Mrs. Reymundo, a grieving mother and the wife of a man named Juan Reymundo.
A legally blind ex-Marine was granted stand your ground immunity and walked into freedom Friday, after two years in Florida’s Seminole County Jail for killing a friend after a night of drinking beer.
40-year-old John Wayne Rogers (blinded in a work-related accident while working on a fire-suppression system in 2001), had been charged with first degree murder and was facing a life sentence in the death of James Dewitt, 34, on March 27, 2012.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Dewitt and his girlfriend, Christina Robertson, were at Rogers’ home in Geneva, Florida to drink beer and ended up spending the night. About 10:00 in the morning the group went to a store for more beer.
When they got back, Rogers testified Thursday, he had asked DeWitt to leave, but Dewitt attacked him, so he went into a bedroom, got his .308 Remington assault rifle, and walked back into the living room. He said when he pointed it in DeWitt’s direction, DeWitt charged him, and Rogers fired the rifle.
Robertson, a witness to the shooting, contended the shooting was unprovoked, and that the two buddies had been “play fighting” when Dewitt was shot once in the chest. Robertson, however appears to have been less than cooperative in testifying. According to court records, she had to be arrested and brought in as a material witness in the case.
It would be easy to see justification in a blind man’s self-defense case, yet Rogers is no stranger to violence. Four years ago, Rogers fired 15 shots from a handgun at Michael Rogers, a cousin and roommate, after another night of drinking and fighting, according to court records.
His cousin was bruised but not shot. John Wayne Rogers was charged with aggravated assault in that incident but made a plea deal, pled no contest to a lesser charge (unlawfully displaying a firearm), and was placed on probation, which was revoked when he pushed and punched a woman a year later, earning him 71 days in jail for domestic violence, according to court records.
Friday, after two days of testimony, the court at first denied a motion by Dewitt’s public defender, attorney Tim Caudill, for acquittal based on self-defense laws. Caudill then renewed a previously filed stand your ground motion, contending Rogers was just a blind man defending himself.
Judge John Galluzzo cut short the jury trial and issued his ruling, granting Rogers immunity from prosecution under Florida’s stand your ground law, before jury deliberations.
2013 was the year stand your ground law became a major hot-button issue. After the George Zimmerman trial for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, civil rights groups, activists, elected officials, and news media outlets across America began calling for a repeal or changes in Florida’s stand your ground laws, causing several major events:
Until the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, few people had ever even heard of a stand your ground law. While Zimmerman never claimed stand your ground immunity, language from Florida’s notorious statute was used in the jury instructions, and news that he was acquitted resulted in a public perception that stand your ground played a role in the outcome.
After the Zimmerman trial, a group of Florida college students got together to form a coalition that quickly gained support and built momentum against stand your ground law in Florida. The Dream Defenders became unofficial leaders of a movement to change or repeal the law in Florida, pushing for lawmakers to hold a hearing.
A Florida woman who fired a warning shot toward an abusive husband became major news after the Zimmerman trial, and a symbol of women’s rights against domestic violence and everything that’s wrong with the state’s justice system when she was denied stand your ground immunity, then subsequently sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in prison.
A judge later granted her a new trial based on faulty jury instructions, and she is free on bond pending the new trial. The case helped force the state to make changes to the law regarding warning shots, at a Florida Senate hearing held preceding the state’s stand your ground hearing.
For the first time, the federal government held a hearing on stand your ground laws in America. The U.S. Senate hearing, originally scheduled for September 17 in Washington, D.C., was postponed due to news of a mass shooting the day before at a nearby Navy Yard. The majority of a nine-member panel testified against the laws.
Florida finally held a much-anticipated hearing on a bill to repeal stand your ground law, and as also anticipated – (especially since the chairman of the committee had said he wouldn’t change “one damn comma” of the law) – the repeal was rejected. Other efforts are underway to change stand your ground law in Florida, where it all started.
The Zimmerman trial, other incidents, and legislative actions in city halls and state capitols since that trial have ensured that until major concessions take place to close loopholes existing within stand your ground laws, they will continue to be controversial.
[UPDATE: January 16. 2014 – Ted Wafer entered a plea of not guilty on January 15, and a trial is scheduled to begin June 2nd]
A man charged in the shooting death of 19-year-old Renisha Mcbride last month after she banged on his door will face trial on charges of second-degree murder after two days of testimony before Judge David Turfe to decide whether the case should go to trial.
Mcbride, a 5′ 4″, 2012 Southfield High School graduate, had wrecked her car in the early morning hours of November 2nd. Toxicology reports show she had a blood alcohol content of 0.218%, more than twice the legal limit, and a trace amount of marijuana in her body.
Mcbride walked up to the home of Theodore Wafer, 46, in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Wafer fired through his door, and reportedly claimed he thought it was a burglar and that his shotgun discharged by accident. He has been free on bond since he was charged with second-degree murder manslaughter, and felony firearm on November 15th. The families of both Wafer and Mcbride attended the hearing.
A medical examiner, a crime scene reconstruction expert, a police detective, firearms expert, witnesses to the car accident, and friends of Mcbride were called to testify during the hearing. The defense appeared to try and sway blame for the incident to Mcbride, using her state of mind that night to display aggressive behavior that would justify Wafer’s actions.
Evidence included the 12-gauge shotgun used to kill Mcbride on his porch, the screen door through which the fatal shot was fired, an NRA pamphlet, shotgun shells, and photos of Mcbride’s damaged car showing airbags deployed as well as a cracked windshield.
The screen door had smudges allegedly caused by Mcbride.The windshield appeared to have a web pattern as though hit from a center point that spread out. Det. Sgt. Stephen Gurka said it’s possible her head hit the windshield.
Assistant Wayne County Medical Examiner Kilak Kesha testified that a person could be incoherent, confused or more aggressive due to any brain damage.
He said they have not been able to establish whether Mcbride had any head injuries from the car accident that could have affected her state of mind, since the gunshot wound to her head caused damage that eliminated any brain damage determination. He said that there was no exit wound.
David Balash, a firearms expert, said the fatal shot was fired from close range, and it may have been from as close as two feet away.
A witness, Carmen Beasly, who called 911 after hearing “a loud boom” outside her house, testified that she went outside and saw McBride holding her head and staggering as she walked away from a 2004 Ford Focus that had crashed into Beasly’s husband’s car.
She said Mcbride came back 5 or 10 minutes later. She said she talked to Mcbride, who had blood on her hands, possibly from her arm, but that Mcbride didn’t know where she was.
Beasly asked if she was OK, and Mcbride said yes, then searched for her cell phone but couldn’t find it. Beasly described Mcbride as “discombobulated” and heard Mcbride say more than once that “I just want to go home”, but that the young lady walked away again as Beasly was calling 911 a second time. Beasly and another witness testified that Mcbride was never hostile.
No one knows Mcbride’s whereabouts from 1:30 a.m. until about 4:42 a.m. that morning, when Wafer called police to say he had shot someone.
A friend who was with Mcbride earlier in the night said she had left Mcbride’s home after they drank half a bottle of vodka and got into an argument. Another friend said she was supposed to pick him up from work, and they had spoken by phone, but that Mcbride’s voice was slurred, as if she was drunk.
He said he wondered if someone had slipped something into a drink she may have had. Both friends testified that Mcbride’s actions that fateful night were uncharacteristic.
In ordering the case held over for trial, Judge Turfe said Wafer could have avoided the confrontation. “He could have not answered the door. He could have called for help. He chose to shoot rather than not answer the door,” Judge Turfe said. He said the defendant made a bad choice when there were other reasonable opportunities.
Based on testimony and reasoning, Judge Turfe said that he believes the prosecutors met the burden of proof showing probable cause to go to trial on charges that Wafer committed the crimes of second-degree murder and manslaughter. The trial date is set for June 2, 2014.
In a tale of two murders, the victims were very much alike. Both had the same teenage passions that all 17-year-olds have. Both teens were born in February, both were killed (though miles apart) in Florida, and both in the same year.
Both had loving parents who had divorced, leaving a void that only a child’s heart could feel. And both of these 17-year-old teens were black. Yet, one is now a household name. The other, some people may have never heard of – yet.
They now share a common legacy. Each was killed by someone who had the option to invoke Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law. The shooter in each case has never showed or expressed public remorse, and neither shooter claimed stand your ground immunity. At least, in one case – not yet.
Yet, the differences are all too clear. Trayvon Martin, whose name is now a legend, may have even been considered ‘thuggish’ by some standards.
He was alone when he was killed in a quiet apartment complex on a rainy February night in Sanford, Florida two years ago by George Zimmerman, a Peruvian-white man, with no apparent witnesses to the shot being fired. Zimmerman waited for police, was questioned, and released, but wasn’t arrested until months later, after a public outcry.
The trial lasted a month, and Zimmerman was acquitted on July 13, 2013, leading to protests, marches, petitions, boycott threats, demonstrations, a fear of riots across America, and a nationwide call from media, civil rights groups, and others to end stand your ground laws.
Jordan Davis, in comparison, could possibly be considered a ‘choirboy’ in comparison. The family attorney, John Philips, has said Davis was an “all-American kid”.
Nine months after Martin was killed, Davis sat in the back seat next to a friend in an SUV, with another friend in the front passenger seat, waiting for the driver who had gone inside the store at a bustling, lit-up Jacksonville gas station the night after Thanksgiving, on November 23, 2012.
A Volkswagen Jetta pulled into a parking spot next to the SUV booming Chief Keef’s rap music. The driver, a 47-year-old white guy named Michael Dunn, waited as his girlfriend went inside the store to buy wine. Dunn later told police he “ordered them to turn the music down”.
According to Rolling Stone, the friend in the front passenger seat turned the sound down, but Davis reached over the console and cranked it back up. He and Dunn threw f-bombs at each other as the SUV driver got back into the driver’s seat.
Dunn said, “You’re not gonna talk to me like that”, reached into his glove compartment for a 9mm gun, and began firing, killing Davis in the back seat. Dunn was arrested the next day, after police traced his license plate, and has been in jail awaiting trial ever since.
While Dunn has not yet claimed stand your ground immunity. He has claimed he felt threatened and claims he saw the barrel of a gun in the SUV, but no gun was ever found.
A real test case for stand-your-ground is coming early next year. Dunn’s trial, originally scheduled to start September 23, was rescheduled to February 3, 2014 at the behest of his attorneys.
Maybe this will be America’s real wake up call, so that many people who still think stand-your-ground law is all good will see the loopholes, see how it actually jeopardizes society, realize it is in fact a very dangerous, flawed law, and take action by starting over to change it.
At a pretrial hearing in a Jacksonville court today, 45-year-old Michael Dunn – who killed Jordan Davis, 17, at a Florida gas station last year – appeared in shackles wearing an orange jump suit as Judge Russell Healey acted on three defense motions that impact the upcoming trial.
The defense wanted to let the trial jury next year visit the gas station; to only let Jordan Davis’ parents or witnesses inside the courtroom when they testify; and to keep any Davis memorabilia out of court during the trial.
Judge Healy, due to “logistical concerns” for the safety of the jury, denied the motion by Dunn’s defense team, led by attorney Cory Strolla, to allow the jury to visit the scene of the crime, and denied a defense motion to only allow Davis’ family in court while they testify. However, he granted a motion that supporters not be allowed to wear Jordan Davis t-shirts, bracelets, ribbons or memorabilia in court.
The judge ruled that Davis’ family members would indeed be allowed at all times inside the courtroom that holds 100 people, yet they will not be allowed to show any emotion during the trial.
After the hearing Lucia Mcbath, Davis’ mother, told FirstCoastNews, “We want to do what’s best for the trial. We want to do what’s best for Jordan and we want to do what’s best for justice, so we will abide by those things.” The teenager was gunned down on November 23 last year after an argument with Dunn over loud rap music booming from an SUV.
Dunn has been in jail since he was arrested the next day, and faces charges on first degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. His next court appearance is January 13, 2014. The trial, expected to last two weeks, is scheduled to start February 3.
[UPDATE: Cordell Jude sentencing scheduled for January 8, 2014 has been postponed to February 28. 2014]
In many of the cases where stand your ground immunity was claimed, it was later denied, a murder charge reduced to manslaughter or dropped, and a manslaughter conviction was successful.
Just because there’s a stand your ground law in your state doesn’t mean you can just kill another person and not go to prison for it. Historically, long before “stand your ground” (“no duty to retreat”) came into play, the law in every U.S. state would appear to have still warranted at least a manslaughter conviction in many cases where an unarmed person was killed.
Although state laws can vary on sentencing, manslaughter was the final verdict recently, in the cases of Cordell Jude, who killed Daniel Adkins, Jr. in Arizona, and Quentin Wyche, who killed Kendall Berry in Florida. Neither victim was armed.
Both cases, connected to the web of situations involving stand your ground laws, and over 2300 miles apart, went to court this month, with a conviction in Arizona and sentencing in Florida.
Kendall Berry, 22, was a star sophomore running back at Florida International University. They may not have even realized they had played together in the same kids’ football league or pickup basketball games.
But on March 25, 2010, they tangled on the FIU campus over Berry’s girl. Wyche had smashed a cookie in her face earlier that day, because she wouldn’t give him a ride on the campus golf-cart shuttle she drove.
Berry, with several football teammates, confronted Wyche, who ran away, with Berry following. As Berry caught up with him, Wyche pulled a pair of scissors from his backpack, said something like “I’m gonna get you”, or “kill you”, according to witnesses, and lunged back at Berry, causing his death.
Wyche claimed immunity under Florida’s stand your ground law, but it was later denied. He was convicted of manslaughter in September. Last week, on November 25, Wyche, now 25 years old, was sentenced to 20 1/2 years in prison.
On April 3, 2012, Daniel Adkins, Jr., a 29 year-old disabled Hispanic-American man, was walking his dog in Phoenix, Arizona when Cordell Jude, then 22 years-old, an African-American driving with his 8-months pregnant girlfriend, pulled out of a Taco Bell drive-thru.
Jude told police he slammed on his brakes as he almost hit Adkins walking across the parking lot exit. He said Adkins shouted something at him, then approached and hit his car with something that looked like a bat or pipe. Jude claimed he fired a gun he kept in his lap as Adkins was about to swing at him again. The only object found on Adkins was a dog leash.
Jude was later charged with 2nd degree murder. On November 20, he was found not guilty of second degree murder but convicted of reckless manslaughter in what is called “reverse Trayvon Martin” case. He faces 7 to 21 years in prison when he is sentenced on January 8, 2014.
Marissa Alexander, a Florida mom who fired a warning shot at an abusive husband, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, only to be granted a new trial, is free on bond and home with family – in time for Thanksgiving and the holiday season.
After a bond hearing, Alexander – who has served almost three years of the sentence handed down in 2010, was released on three bonds – one for each of her charges for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon – totalling $200,000 – just before midnight. She is under house arrest.
State Attorney General Angela Corey released a statement earlier this month stating that her office “will continue to seek justice for our two child victims and their father who were endangered by the shot the defendant fired at them.”
Supporters had hoped that Corey would drop the case against the 33 year-old mother of three who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. Her sentencing produced an uproar by women’s rights groups and she became an iconic symbol for those against domestic violence.
Alexander was released with special conditions, according to court records, most not unlike any other felony case.
She will be under supervision of the Pretrial Services Program (PSP) with electronic monitoring on house arrest, and is not allowed to leave her home except for medical emergencies, court appearances, or request by the PSP.
Of course, Alexander is ordered (again) not to have any contact whatsoever with Rico Gray or his two boys. Since she is still going through divorce proceedings, all orders pertaining to those proceedings will be facilitated by an unnamed third party.
Alexander is not allowed to possess or be near any firearms, cannot consume any alcohol or drugs, and is subject to random drug testing and warrantless searches.
This Movement to End Stand Your Ground supports the movement to free Marissa Alexander and celebrates her release on bond, since her case exemplifies misapplication of stand your ground laws. Based upon the case history, it would appear that Alexander originally would have deserved to have been granted immunity from prosecution under Florida’s stand your ground law, but she was denied immunity.
Last week, for the first time, the federal government held a hearing on stand your ground laws in America, with testimony that was riveting and sometimes emotional, as most of those on a nine-member panel testified against the laws.
In every state that has a “stand your ground”-type provision, the law is similar, and universally includes a “no duty to retreat” imposed by these new laws, but vary in use of deadly force.
Committee Chairman Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) appeared to favor some type of federal legislation, although federal authority cannot dictate state laws on self-defense.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) emphasized this, even implicating there may be a “political agenda” behind the hearing. His cohort, Texas State Representative Louis Gourmet (R) echoed the sentiment that legislation on the laws must be left with the states.
But Durbin acknowledged the NRA-ALEC connection to stand your ground laws, and cited past or recent studies and reports which he said show that stand your ground law allowed “shooters to walk free in shocking situations. Durbin said the laws “emboldened those who carry guns to initiate confrontations which have ended up killing unarmed children, increase racial disparity,” and said, “it’s clear these laws often go too far in encouraging confrontations that escalate into deadly violence.”
Cruz, of course, defended stand your ground, expounding the benefits of the second amendment. He claims that doing away with the laws would take away the right to defend yourself on a public street.
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) used the Trayvon Martin shooting as an example of racial profiling and said George Zimmerman was exonerated due to the laws, calling the laws unjust and biased.
Illinois State Representative Luis Guitterez (D) blamed the gun lobby on spreading an agenda of shoot first. and said he was shocked by the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the fact that no one was immediately arrested, and that there was no conviction.
Sybrina Fulton spoke about her son Trayvon, and said it is important that stand your ground is amended, saying “this law does not work” and that law enforcement and legal authorities should be contacted to do something about the laws.
Professor Ron Sullivan, Jr., Director of Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Institute explained a correlation between stand your ground and violence, and spoke out against racial profiling and policing by citizens.
David Labahn, President of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, replaced William Meggs on the panel, and offered recommendations for reforms He said stand your ground provides “safe harbor” for criminals, and ties up the legal system with cases.
Ilya Shapiro, of CATO Institute, another proponent of the laws, defended stand your ground, while an opponent of the laws, John Lott, attempted to explain effects of racial disparities and gun laws on the outcome of incidents and statistics.
Yet it was Lucia Mcbath who gave the most riveting, emotional testimony, recounting the November incident last year which took the life of her son Jordan Davis. Mcbath, now the national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action, said she faces “the very real possibility that her son’s killer will walk free.”
Mcbath spoke of how the laws empower people like Michael Dunn – the man accused of gunning down her son – who she said had “no ground to stand”, and said the law “declares open season on anyone we don’t trust for reasons we don’t even understand…in essence it allows any armed citizen to self-deputize themselves and establish their own definition of law and order…even the wild west had more stringent laws than what we have now.”
She appeared to break down, her voice cracking, as she spoke of how she never got to take Davis’ prom picture or see him graduate from high school and her memories of him. Lawmakers did not call on neither of the mothers for questioning.