Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has been in effect for more than a 100 years. It’s principle is that a person may use deadly force or threaten to use deadly force if the person believes that such force is necessary to prevent their imminent death or great bodily harm.
That law was put to the test this week in the First Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in the case against John Marshall Fitzgerald of Navarre. And the law won, along with Fitzgerald.
On the night of Oct. 30, 2015, on Valley Road in Holley by the Sea shots rang out. And when it was over, Nelson Rivers Starkey was shot and in critical condition and John Marshall Fitzgerald was in police custody for attempted murder.
When deputies arrived on the scene of the shooting they found Fitzgerald kneeling over Starkey who had been shot several times including once to the head.
Testimony from Fitzgerald and others leaves ambiguities as to what actually happened, which always leaves a bit of a sour taste. But when most of us think of “standing our ground” we picture someone we don’t know, an intruder, who intends to kill us. He is decked out in his robbery gear (whatever that means) and he is evil. We don’t stop to consider it may be someone we know. In this case, it was a friend of Fitzgerald’s nephew and the two were staying with him during a little break from college.
The reports say they had all been drinking and an altercation broke out. Sadly, does this shock anyone that alcohol was involved? So, the questions must be asked, and maybe they were; had no one been drinking that night would any of it happened? But for the alcohol, would tempers have flared the way they did? Is it possible that sober minds would have just gone to bed – and woke up to a better day? As much as everyone wants to turn the clock back they can’t. And now, Starkey is confined to a hospital bed with little hope of recovery. From all accounts, he had a great life to live out, the world by the tail so to speak. And now, nothing. Not even justice.
When the altercation broke out, Fitzgerald left the room and retrieved his gun, to be the only armed person in the room. He told his nephew and Starkey to leave or he would shoot them. His nephew ran but Starkey did not want to leave. Fitzgerald testified that he led Starkey to the door with his hand on his back. And an alcohol fueled Starkey tried to wrestle the gun away from Fitzgerald. But for the alcohol would Starkey have felt so invincible?
Fitzgerald fired the gun and here is where it gets ambiguous. A blood trail from the porch to the car suggests that Starkey walked to the car and Fitzgerald says Starkey did that to retrieve a gun out of the car. But there was no gun. He went back up the porch and was shot in the head.
After two trials, the first ended in a hung jury, Fitzgerald was found not guilty by reason of self-defense. He walked out a free man. This time the jury believed as Fitzgerald did that he was in imminent danger and was justified in using his gun. Starkey’s family would beg to differ. A college student with a life ahead of him; maybe a wife, career, children and success. Shot not once but three times.
The “Stand Your Ground” law makes us feel safe in our own homes. It protects us when we have to protect ourselves. Most people won’t hesitate to protect their family or themselves when they are in imminent danger. But somehow this case feels different. Maybe that is what the first jury thought. And there are no winners. Certainly not Starkey, nor his family.