NEW PORT RICHEY — Joe Martell spent the last day of his life partying with friends he'd known since high school. They went to the Chasco parade on March 29, 2008, drinking, partying and people-watching well into the night.
But the revelry turned tragic when Martell got into an argument with a group of strangers and was shot to death as his friends stood by, helpless and stunned.
Max Wesley Horn, authorities say, shot Martell six times on a sidewalk outside a downtown bar. He does not deny being the shooter.
Horn, 48, is on trial this week charged with second-degree murder, but he claims the shooting was legal self-defense, that Martell was trying to fight him and he had no other means of protecting himself.
Martell, 34, and Horn didn't know each other, but their groups had crossed paths while bar-hopping after the Chasco Fiesta. Attorneys say Martell made rude remarks to a couple of the women in Horn's group.
When the two groups bumped into each other again that night, an argument erupted. Martell argued with Horn's relatives, and then Horn stepped in. They traded insults and curse words. Horn's attorneys say he told Martell, who was 6-feet-6 and 328 pounds, that he couldn't fight but was armed. He lifted his shirt to reveal a gun.
Scott Hicks, one of Martell's friends, testified Tuesday that he witnessed that argument but didn't know what it was about. He just wanted it to end.
"I kind of walked up and grabbed Joe," Hicks said. "We walked toward the Village Pub and (I) told him, 'Let's go inside, cool down and have a drink.' "
He tapped another friend on the shoulder.
"Scott came to me and said, 'There's a problem with Joe. He needs some help,' " said Don Revell, another in the group.
Revell followed Martell and Hicks into the Village Pub on Grand Boulevard, but as soon as they got inside, Martell disappeared out a side door.
Revell and Hicks hurried after Martell, out into the street. The argument with Horn resumed.
"All I wanted to do was get everybody separated," said Hicks.
"I'm facing him, and no sooner (than) I ask him what's the problem, there's shots fired," Revell said.
Six in a row, like firecrackers. Martell fell to the sidewalk.
Jurors also heard testimony from Janice Horn, the defendant's wife, who said Horn stepped in front of her as Martell approached. She did not see the shots being fired. Prosecutors also presented photographs of the bullet-riddled clothing Martell wore when he was killed.
Throughout the day Tuesday, witnesses differed on the details of how it happened. How far apart the men stood. If one was moving toward the other. If any punches were thrown.
Those points could help determine whether the jury sees the case as murder or an example of "stand your ground," a relatively new and untested legal argument in Florida that says people can meet force with force — even deadly force — if they feel they are being threatened with great bodily harm.
Hicks and Revell didn't go into those issues. They just appeared shell-shocked, even two years later, as they described watching their friend die.
"After he was shot, I looked at him, he looked back at me, very surprised, shocked," Revell testified. "I'm sure we all were. He just had a blank stare, looking back at me. I really stood there for a second, looking down at him. When I saw the blood coming through his shirt, I knew it was real."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.