The Trayvon Martin case has sparked a national debate about so-called Stand Your Ground laws. The idea behind these laws is simple: if you feel your life is being threatened by someone you don’t have to back down. You can even use deadly force, if you feel it is necessary.
The philosophy stems from so-called Castle Laws, on the books to varying degrees in most states, in which a person facing an intruder in his home can defend his property with deadly force (one’s home being one’s castle, that castle is liable to be defended). Stand Your Ground states extend this concept to outside the home—to one’s occupied car, for instance, in Pennsylvania—and of course in Florida, it extends to one’s own person.
But as the Trayvon Martin killing shows, the broad strokes of the law are up for criticism and protest. And Trayvon is not the only young person to lose his life over what can sometimes appear to be a Wild West, shoot-first-or-be-shot mentality. There are other cases that involve teenagers who were assaulted with deadly force under questionable circumstances. Unlike Trayvon, some of the teens were involved in criminal activity, a few even at the time the shootings occurred. The Daily Beast looks at some of those cases.
Thomas Baker was on his normal early morning jog in Town ‘n’ Country, Florida, when he got into a fight with two hooded teens, ages 18 and 16. Carlos Mustelier, the 18-year-old, punched Baker, according to police reports. That’s when Baker pulled out his .45-caliber semiautomatic, for which he had a permit, and shot at Mustelier eight times. Mustelier died. The 16-year-old was not hurt. Neither teen was armed. Neither had a criminal record. Baker and the teens were in fact neighbors. Because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, prosecutors declined to charge Baker in the killing. “It was a terrible thing,” Baker told the Tampa Bay Times. “He was a good kid,” a friend said of Mustelier, who was “spoiled” by his mother.
Marqus Hill had his concealed-gun permit in Pennsylvania revoked in 2005, when he was charged with attempted murder. Hill reapplied for his permit after he was acquitted. Pennsylvania denied his request, but he was able to get a permit in Florida. Thanks to a loophole by which Pennsylvania honors Florida permits, he was again allowed to carry a gun in Pennsylvania. That loophole had fatal consequences for Irving Santana. When Hill saw a couple of unarmed teenagers trying to break into cars in Philadelphia, he brought out his loaded gun and shot 18-year-old Santana 13 times. Hill will face trial for murder in June. He is claiming self-defense under Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground law, saying he feared for his life and thought one of the teens was armed.
DeAngelo Davis Miller
There’s no question that Adrian Harrison killed DeAngelo Davis Miller. But was it self-defense? Harrison, then 20, was hanging out in a townhouse in Claremont with teenage girls who were acquaintances of Miller’s, when Miller, 17, and some friends came into the home and told Harrison to leave. Harrison came back with his brother, a friend, a gun, and a bat—but the teens had left. A short while later, the teens returned, and a fight broke out. Miller was unarmed when he was killed, though defense attorneys claimed Harrison thought Miller had a BB gun, and that Miller and his friends had surrounded Harrison. Harrison and the others fled the scene by car, with one of the men tossing the murder weapon out a window. Harrison claimed self-defense when he was apprehended. The jury deadlocked in June 2012 but according to local reports a retrial is “likely.”
It was 10:30 p.m. and a man sitting near his front window saw two teenagers crossing his lawn. “Hey, the blinds are moving,” one of the teens said, according to The Dallas Morning News. Seconds later, a shot rang out. That’s what happened in Kaufman County, when W.C. Frosch, 74, fired through his window at Brandon Robinson, 15, and Devin Nalls, 16. Robinson, who was hit beneath his left arm, and Nalls were crossing Frosch’s lawn to check out a party they heard going on. Robinson survived. “I think I was justified in what I done,” Frosch said. Nalls’s mother, a nurse, was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver as she drove the boys to the hospital. Nalls was not at fault in the accident, but an autopsy showed she was intoxicated. The boys survived the wreck. Authorities at first decided not to press charges against Frosch, citing Texas’s Castle Law. But a few months later, Frosch was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and received a $1,000 fine.
Jose Luis Gonzalez of Webb County told police he was asleep in his shed when he heard his nearby trailer being broken into. It wasn’t the first time Gonzalez had dealt with a break-in. Turned out the intruders were four boys on the prowl for snacks, including Francisco Anguiano, 13. Gonzalez fatally shot Anguiano. “It was a case where it was my life or theirs,” Gonzalez said after he was acquitted of murder. Attorneys agreed that Gonzalez forced the unarmed boys to their knees, and shot Anguiano in the back with a shotgun—Gonazalez said he thought Anguiano had lunged at him. One of the boys testified that Gonzalez had them remove Anguiano’s body. Twinkies and cookies were found in Anguiano’s pockets.
Trayvon is not the only young person to lose his life over what can sometimes appear to be a Wild West, shoot-first-or-be-shot mentality.
Christopher Cote, 19, and his family had just moved to The Acreage community, near West Palm Beach. According to court details published in the Palm Beach Post, Cote had been drinking beer and was out walking his dog at 3 a.m. when he had an argument with 63-year-old Jose Tapanes. Cote returned home and asked his family to call police. They said they didn’t want any trouble with the new neighbors. Cote returned to Tapanes’s home and knocked—or by Tapanes’s account, banged—on his front door. Tapanes opened the door and shot Cote once in the chest with a shotgun. Cote fell back onto Tapanes’s front lawn. Tapanes then shot Cote at point-blank range in the stomach, killing the teenager. Cote was unarmed. Tapanes claimed that before the shooting Cote was being confrontational. Tapanes was acquitted of manslaughter in July 2011. “I think the jury said it all,” he said after the verdict.
Ben Neil Smith
Carl Rowan had a long and distinguished career as a journalist and syndicated columnist—a writer who used his pen to champion civil rights causes and rail against the American gun lobby. But he was decidedly pro-gun when a group of teenagers decided to use his pool one early morning. Rowan claimed Ben Neil Smith, 18, lunged at him after Rowan confronted the group, and Rowan shot Smith in the wrist with an unregistered .22-caliber pistol in self-defense. “I am not for unilateral gun control, in which I leave my family naked to the druggies and the crooks out there,” Rowan said in response to charges of hypocrisy. A pro-gun group, Gun Owners of America, offered Rowan legal assistance. “I want you to know that I am delighted that you and your family escaped injury because you were able to successfully use a firearm to repel an intruder at your home,” GOA president Larry Pratt wrote in a letter. Rowan was tried on a lesser weapons-possession charge—not assault. The jury deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial. Rowan was never re-tried.