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Accused shooter loses 'stand your ground' argument involving botched drug deal

TAMPA — A big bag of pot. A drug dealer and his customer who each say the other guy tried a ripoff. A gun no one admits to owning. A whole bunch of stoned witnesses.

Those are the ingredients of a "stand your ground'' defense?

Florida's much-maligned "stand your ground" law was put to yet another test Friday when a teenage defendant facing trial for attempted murder asked a judge to throw out the case because he said he shot his drug dealer out of fear for his life.

The "stand your ground" law has been invoked more than 130 times since its passage in Florida in 2005, but in terms of colorful story lines, this was one for the books.

Both the drug dealer — who wears a scar extending from his forehead to the back of his right ear — and the dissatisfied customer argued it out for a half-day before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder.

The drug dealer: Daniel Drake, then 21. He said he brought a half-pound of "hydro" marijuana to a yard on Mohrlake Drive in Brandon on Jan. 20, intending to make a sale.

The customer: Gerald Terrell Jones, then 17. He has been arrested 22 times since age 11. He said he had $500 in his pocket but wanted only $100 worth of Drake's weed.

After some considerable sampling of the wares by other people gathered in the yard, including Drake's sales partner, Michael Wilson, 21, Drake and Jones got into a car to make the transaction.

That's when, each says, the other tried to rob him.

Drake said Jones showed him a wad of cash, which Drake told him he admired, but then Jones displayed a gun and asked, "How do you like this?"

Jones said he wasn't carrying a gun. He said Drake pulled the gun, but he was able to wrestle it away from the dealer.

Then both got out of the car, and they scuffled some more. Drake's partner, Wilson, said he managed to get the gun away from Jones.

The next part is even harder to understand, except for the consumption of Drake's hydro. But for whatever reason, Wilson said he then gave the gun back to Jones.

Jones said he took off running with the gun. Drake said Jones grabbed the marijuana out of the car first.

They fought some more. Jones said he was losing. He felt himself slipping into unconsciousness.

"I was in fear for my life. I closed my eyes and shot."

He shot Drake in the face.

Jones' defense attorney, Ronald Kurpiers, said it was clearly a "stand your ground" case. Although the law doesn't protect people who are committing a crime, Kurpiers argued that the crime — the botched drug sale — was over before the shooting.

"He was running away. He was trying to leave."

Holder deliberated for 15 minutes before ruling that the "stand your ground" law didn't apply. Jones was committing a crime at the time, he said, and even if he hadn't been, the testimony didn't show he was in mortal danger. He said Jones would stand trial Monday for attempted second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. Neither Jones nor Drake faces drug charges.

Holder also noted that the "stand your ground" law "has been misapplied throughout the state."

But not in this case.

He said the law is misapplied when it is used by police and prosecutors as a reason not to bring charges in a homicide. "It was not designed to be decided by them," he said.

Holder said the law was intended for a defendant's use in arguments before a judge.

"This," he told the attorneys, "is the way it's supposed to be done."

John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or jbarry@tampabay.com.

Accused shooter loses 'stand your ground' argument involving botched drug deal 05/04/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 4, 2012 11:38pm]
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