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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott denies inmate's plea for mercy in 'warning shot' case



Supporters have spent years trying to free Orville (Lee) Wollard, but Gov. Rick Scott quickly rejected his commutation of sentence plea Wednesday, ensuring that he'll remain behind bars in a highly-publicized "warning shot" case.

Scott denied the petition after a forceful argument from State Attorney Jerry Hill, who said Wollard had "a history of making bad decisions" and should remain in prison. Hill did not mention that his office offered Wollard a plea deal of five years probation, which Wollard rejected.

Wollard, 60, of Davenport, a former human resources specialist at Sea World, is almost midway through a 20-year term for firing a warning shot at his teenage daughter's boyfriend at his Polk County home in 2008 after the youth attacked him and tried to tear off his stitches. Under sentencing laws -- since changed by Scott and the Legislature -- the crime of aggravated assault with a firearm carried a minimum mandatory term of 20 years.

The National Center for Due Process has a "Free Orville Wollard" Facebook page, and a nationwide advocacy group, FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) has championed his cause. At Wednesday's clemency hearing, Wollard's pro bono lawyer, Thomas Means, said: "He shouldn't have to serve another day, much less 13 more years for trying to defend his home, himself and his family from what he perceived as an imminent physical threat of force."

The staff of the Florida Commission on Offender Review recommended denial of Wollard's petition, which is not a public record. Former prosecutor Hill showed Scott and Cabinet members blowup pictures of a bullethole on the wall of Wollard's home.

Hill said the incident between Wollard and the boyfriend was "all but overwith, and he rips off a shot" that came within inches of killing the youth.

"Common sense tells us that with one twitch, one twitch, one slight movement of that handgun, we'd have been looking at a murder charge, not basically an unlawful discharge inside the house," Hill said. "There was no reason to fire that shot."

The Legislature last year cited Wollard's case when it rewrote state law to provide criminal immunity in cases of the threatened use of force. But the law was not retroactive, so it doesn't apply to Wollard's case. Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, said Wednesday that he didn't understand why prosecutor Hill was so adamant about keeping Wollard imprisoned when he had offered him a plea deal of five years felony probation.

"It doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to me or anybody else," Combee said.

Clemency rules require Scott to be on the prevailing side in any vote, so his opposition brought the case to an end with no further discussion or vote. "I'm stunned and disappointed. I'm shocked," said Wollard's wife, Sandy, who wiped away tears as her attorney led her to a Capitol elevator.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2015 11:18am]


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