New law gives too many people a license to kill
BY FRED GRIMM
The legal defense of Red Rock and Yellow Man, a couple of feuding Liberty City street thugs up on murder charges, has been bolstered by 62 members of the Florida House of Representatives and 28 state senators.
Police say a stray bullet from a July 1 shootout between Damon ''Red Rock'' Darling and Leroy ''Yellow Man'' LaRose, both with long rap sheets, killed 9-year-old Sherdavia Jenkins. But police and prosecutors worry that the ''Stand Your Ground'' law passed in 2005 with 90 sponsors and overwhelming support in both houses of the Florida Legislature, has complicated their case against the two men.
The law, pushed through the Legislature in Florida (and 14 other states) by the National Rifle Association, has broadened the legal definition of self-defense, no longer requiring the use of deadly force only as a last resort. A person, feeling threatened, ``has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.''
This kind of macho legislation gets political testosterone churning. Supporters envisioned a beleaguered suburban soccer dad fending off a tattooed ex-con with a righteous hail of bullets. The law prohibits police from detaining or arresting a suspect in a self-defense case without clear evidence of malice. Red Rock and Yellow Man are grateful.
''Unfortunately, you can't write a law that says only good citizens can use deadly force to protect themselves,'' said Jay Plotkin, chief assistant state attorney in the Fourth Judicial District, which includes Jacksonville, another Florida city beset with a murder epidemic. ``If a bad guy is defending himself against another bad guy, the law applies to him, too.''
In Florida's tough urban neighborhoods, where witnesses to shootings are shy and convictions are elusive, the Stand Your Ground law has quickly become another complicating factor -- another tool for defense lawyers. When the smoke clears, gang-bangers can now evoke the magic words: ``I had a reasonable fear I was going to be killed or suffer great bodily harm.''
But the effect of the new law has reached beyond the mean streets of Miami and Jacksonville. Needless killings erupting out of neighborhood disputes in middle-class suburbs now go in the books as self-defense.
In March, Michael Frazzini was gunned down in his mother's backyard in North Fort Myers while holding a 14-inch miniature baseball bat and a video camera. He had been hiding in the bushes hoping to catch the vandal who had been harassing his mother. Instead, a neighbor from the adjoining backyard, with a pistol, and his 22-year-old son (a prime suspect in the vandalism, presently in jail for stealing his father's guns) confronted Frazzini. The father killed him. He told police that Frazzini was going after his son. He said he was afraid.
STANDING HIS GROUND?
He wasn't charged. He had merely stood his ground.
In June, unarmed Jason Rosenbloom was shot during an argument in Clearwater with his next-door neighbor. He was shot just outside the neighbor's front door. The neighbor said he was afraid.
''This law is pretty scary,'' said Doreen Rosenbloom, Jason's mother. ''All you have to do is say you feel threatened, and you can shoot someone and get away with it,'' she said Wednesday. ``My son walks with a cane. He has a scar down the middle of his chest. He has long-term injuries. And the man who shot him will go unpunished.''
In June, The Orlando Sentinel examined 13 Central Florida cases involving the use of deadly force in self-defense since the law went into effect in October. Six of the alleged aggressors were killed. Four were wounded. All but one of the 10 people shot were unarmed.
Red Rock and Yellow Man aren't the only shooters lately who stood their ground