The fathers of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law implicated in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin say the man who shot him to death probably should be arrested and doesn’t deserve a self-defense claim of immunity.
Former state Sen. Durell Peaden and current state Rep. Dennis Baxley say the law they passed in 2005 was designed to protect citizens by giving them the right to “meet force with force.”
Both men say they don’t know all the facts of Trayvon's case. But, they say they believe the law would not allow a person like George Zimmerman to pursue and confront a person like Trayvon and then use deadly force. Zimmerman has not been charged.
“They got the goods on him. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid,” said Peaden, a Crestview Republican who sponsored the deadly force law in 2005. “He has no protection under my law.”
Peaden and Baxley say their law, at its heart, is a self-defense law. It says law-abiding people have no duty to retreat. Nowhere does it say that a person has a right to confront another. The law does say a law-abiding citizen can use deadly force if "if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."
The 911 tapes strongly suggest Zimmerman overstepped his bounds, they say, when the Sanford neighborhood crime-watch captain said he was following Trayvon and appeared to ignore a police request to stay away.
“The guy lost his defense right then,” said Peaden. “When he said ‘I’m following him,’ he lost his defense.”
Under the law, a person who claims he was acting in self defense can be immune from arrest. But, like Peaden, Baxley said Zimmerman might have lost that right because he could have “aggravated” the situation and provoked a confrontation.
Said Baxley: “There’s nothing in this statute that authorizes you to pursue and confront people, particularly if law enforcement has told you to stay put. I don’t see why this statute is being challenged in this case. That is to prevent you from being attacked by other people.”
Baxley, R-Ocala, was a little more circumspect than Peaden in calling for Zimmerman’s arrest.
“I don’t want to make that judgment call based on speculation,” Baxley said. I just want to reinforce that there’s nothing in this statute that authorizes people to pursue and confront people.”
Still, there’s a chance Zimmerman could avoid an arrest or a conviction if he were charged because the law gives broad protections to those who claim they had reason to be afraid and to use deadly force.
There’s a chance, for instance, that Zimmerman decided to stop following Trayvon after he was told by a police dispatcher “Okay, we don't need you to do that.” After that, Trayvon could have changed course and confronted Zimmerman.
It’s unclear. Only Zimmerman appears to know. Still, the 911 tapes suggest Zimmerman may have gotten out of his car just after he admitted he was following Trayvon.
Baxley suggested that doesn’t bode well for Zimmerman’s defense.
“If he provoked it by pursing him, I think he’s on thin ice,” Baxley said.
The comments from the two lawmakers add more weight to the criticisms of Sanford's police department and the area's prosecutor. It's also a preview of the arguments that will rage in the state Legislature, where some lawmakers are calling for hearings into and a repeal of the Stand Your Ground law.
Both Baxley and Peaden said the law didn’t need to be clarified and said some are using Trayvon's death to attack gun rights.
Peaden said he sponsored the law in 2005 after an old man from Pensacola shot an intruder at a trailer where he lived after his home was damaged by a hurricane. The old man was never charged, and critics said that proved Peaden’s legislation wasn’t needed. Peaden said he sponsored the legislation to ensure that those who defend their property know they won’t have to hire a lawyer to defend themselves in court for defending themselves.
But the law went farther than a mere property-protection act. The core of the legislation adjusted what’s known as “the Castle Doctrine” — the concept that a man’s home is his castle and that he owes no duty to retreat when someone breaks in. The Legislature declared that people had no duty to retreat almost anywhere.
Baxley said the law isn’t the problem. It’s the “application” of the law that’s at issue.
If anything needs to be changed in law, Baxley said, it’s making sure that crime-watch captains aren’t acting like armed vigilantes.
“If you want to pass something, pass something that limits their ability to pursue and confront people,” Baxley said.
“It’s about crime watch. What are the limitations of crime watch? Are you allowed to jump out and follow people and confront them? What do you think is going to happen? That’s where it starts.
“I don’t think it’s about that statute. I think it’s about the crime-watch role and limiting people’s role in feeling like they have the authority to pursue and confront people. That is aggravating an incident right there.”