NEW PORT RICHEY — Max Wesley Horn shot Joseph Martell during the after hours of the 2008 Chasco Fiesta. That he fired his pistol six times, leaving Martell dead in the street, is not in dispute.
As Horn's trial got under way Monday, jurors began the process of determining whether the shooting was second-degree murder, as prosecutors say, or legal self-defense, as Horn claims.
Horn and Martell, who didn't know each other, each attended the popular Chasco parade on March 29, 2008, with friends. Martell, 34, crossed paths with Horn's sister-in-law and made a rude remark to her, Assistant State Attorney Jim Goodnow told jurors Monday. Later that night, the groups met again in the street outside a bar where big crowds were drinking and partying.
Kim Dennison, Horn's sister-in-law, testified that she recognized Martell from earlier in the day. She and her husband began fighting with him — the men bumped chests, Kim slapped Martell and he called her a crude name, she testified.
Horn stepped into the argument, and friends on both sides tried to break it up.
Horn, who has a heart condition, told Martell, who was 6-feet-6 and 328 pounds, that he couldn't fight but was armed. Horn lifted his shirt to reveal a pistol in a waistband holster, his attorney Peter Brick told jurors.
Friends dragged Martell away from the fight, but he went back outside moments later.
In sworn statements, some witnesses said Martell charged Horn, intent on fighting. Horn claims Martell punched him. Other witnesses say Martell was turning away, disengaging, when Horn pulled out the gun and fired it six times until it jammed.
"He was a voluntary participant in that argument," Goodnow told the jury. "The shooting was not justified and it was not self-defense."
Brick countered that Horn had no choice but to use his gun.
"There was no opportunity to flee," Brick told the jury. "He was under direct attack. He had no other means of defense than the weapon."
People on both sides of the gun debate are watching the case. It is a test of Florida's relatively new "stand your ground" law, which says people have no duty to retreat and have a right to use force when they feel threatened.
Among those in the randomly selected jury pool Monday was Bill Bunting, Pasco's Republican Party committeeman, an NRA member, longtime Second Amendment activist and firearms instructor. He said his students have included state Rep. Will Weatherford and U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite.
Asked if he has any personal philosophies about self-defense, Bunting replied: "If somebody came up and pulled a gun on me and I had a legal right to shoot them, yes, I'd shoot them."
He was not chosen for the jury.
The trial is expected to last two or three days. Brick said Horn will testify.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.