Sunday, March 25, 2012

Miami judge decides fatal stabbing was self-defense

David Ovalle | The Miami Herald | 21 March 2012

Judge Beth Bloom threw out the murder charge against a man who chased a car burglar for more than a block and then stabbed him, killing him.

As critics assail Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law in the wake of the killing of an unarmed Miami Gardens teen in Sanford, a Miami-Dade judge on Wednesday cited the law in tossing out the case of a man who chased down a suspected burglar and stabbed him to death.

Greyston Garcia was charged with second-degree murder in the slaying of Pedro Roteta, 26, whom he chased for more than a block before stabbing the man.

The case illustrates the difficulty police and prosecutors statewide have experienced since the 2005 law eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat in the face of danger, putting the burden on a judge, not a jury, to decide whether the accused is immune from prosecution.

In Sanford, police have cited the Stand Your Ground law in their decision not to arrest a neighborhood watch volunteer in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, 17. A Seminole County grand jury will decide on whether the man who shot Trayvon, George Zimmerman, 28, should face homicide charges.

Miami police Sgt. Ervens Ford, who supervised the Garcia case, was floored when told Wednesday of the judge’s decision. Ford called the law and the decision by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beth Bloom a “travesty of justice.”

“How can it be Stand Your Ground?” said Ford, a longtime homicide investigator who on his off-day on Monday plans to attend a rally in the Trayvon case in Sanford with his two teenage sons. “It’s on [surveillance] video! You can see him stabbing the victim . . .”

Bloom granted Garcia, 25, immunity under the 2005 law after she decided that his testimony about self-defense was credible. The judge did not issue a written ruling, but is expected to do so in the next few days.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office is likely to appeal the judge’s ruling. Garcia’s defense attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The 2005 law eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat when attacked, leading critics to say the statute fosters vigilante justice and allows criminals to get away with murder on a claim of self-defense.

The law also bestowed immunity from prosecution and civil suits on people who are deemed to have acted in self-defense. The Florida Supreme Court has said that the question of whether the immunity applies in each case should be decided by a judge, not a jury.

“Self-defense should be decided by a jury,” Miami-Dade Chief Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Hoague, who trains prosecutors on the law, said after Wednesday’s ruling. “To us, that’s the flaw in the law.”

The incident took place on Jan. 25, when Roteta and another youth were behind Garcia’s apartment at 201 SW 18th Ct. According to police, Roteta was stealing Garcia’s truck radio.

Garcia, alerted by a roommate, grabbed a large knife and ran downstairs. He chased Roteta, then stabbed him in a confrontation that lasted less than a minute, according to court documents.

The stabbing was caught on video. Roteta was carrying a bag filled with three stolen radios, but no weapon other than a pocketknife, which was unopened in his pocket and which police said he never brandished.

After initially denying involvement in the man’s death, Garcia admitted to homicide detectives that he attacked Roteta even though “he actually never saw a weapon.”

Garcia claimed Roteta made a move that he interpreted as a move to stab him — so he struck first.

Prosecutors and police have argued since the Stand Your Ground law passed that it would give vigilantes free rein to strike first and ask questions later.

In the Garcia case, prosecutors argued that the law did not apply because the truck was not “occupied” and the suspected burglar had run away.

Once Roteta ran off, prosecutor Jennie Conklin wrote in a motion, Garcia “no longer needed to use deadly force to protect his home or unoccupied vehicle.”

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