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Gunman who claimed self-defense in 2007 Land O'Lakes shooting gets 30 years in prison

DADE CITY — Sean Christopher Stewart shot his friend to death. He claimed self-defense and invoked a controversial Florida law passed in 2005.

"I'm going to stand my ground, dude. Jeb Bush said I could," Stewart told a detective as he was being driven to jail.

A jury rejected Stewart's defense last month, and on Wednesday a judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison for second-degree murder.

Stewart, 37, never denied that he shot James Scott Baisden, 34, at Baisden's Land O'Lakes house on Dec. 2, 2007.

Stewart said Wednesday that he was sorry Baisden died, but he couldn't change what happened. He stuck to his defense under the Stand Your Ground law: "I was in fear for my life when I used force."

Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa wasn't impressed. He said he had heard the 2 1/2 hour tape of Stewart talking with sheriff's deputies.

"You seemed really broken up when you were in the back of the squad car yelling at people," the judge said. "You should be embarrassed for how you sounded."

Baisden's family did not attend the hearing. Stewart's attorney, Cliff Travis, said they did not appear "to be seeking my client's head on a platter." But one of Baisden's relatives sent a letter to the judge, calling Baisden's death "devastating."

Assistant state attorney Stacey Sumner pointed out that Stewart had never shown remorse.

"Never has he taken responsibility for his actions," she said. "He continues to blame the victim."

Stewart was also convicted of aggravated assault, for pointing the gun at Baisden's roommate after shooting Baisden and saying, "Do you want to be next?"

He faced the possibility of life in prison.

Stewart's mother, Deborah Hallman, sat with tears running down her face during the hearing. She said afterward that prosecutors mischaracterized her son.

"This was the most one-sided kangaroo court I've ever seen in my life," she said after the sentencing.

Stewart, who grew up in Land O'Lakes but was living in Tampa in 2007, went to Baisden's house on Shadecrest Drive in the late afternoon to hang out and watch TV. The two had been childhood friends. Several other people came over and Stewart brought out his guns to show off, but it made the group nervous. The guns were stuck in a drawer, witnesses said, and later when Stewart went to leave he became enraged when he couldn't find them.

Stewart said Baisden began punching him and the others joined in. He said he was knocked unconscious on the floor of the house. When he woke up, he said, he went outside to his truck to leave, but didn't have his keys. So he broke the passenger window to look for a spare set but instead found a .22-caliber pistol.

When he saw Baisden and his roommate coming out of the house, he asked them again about his guns and they charged at him.

"I'd already been beaten unconscious," Stewart said on the witness stand. "I was scared. I pulled the gun out of my pocket and fired it."

Baisden died several days later after developing pneumonia as a result of the gunshot wound.

Within minutes of the shooting, Stewart was telling deputies he was the victim in the incident. During the trial, prosecutors said there was no threat, and it wasn't fear motivating Stewart.

"This case was about choices and alternatives," Sumner told jurors. "He knew what would happen when he pulled that trigger."

"How many times did he say, 'I wouldn't have shot anybody if I'd gotten my guns back?' "

She said that physical evidence didn't jibe with Stewart's story that the shooting happened in the yard. Sumner said he walked back to the house, kicked in the door and shot Baisden in the doorway.

"He was going for revenge," she said, "not for self-defense."

Gunman who claimed self-defense in 2007 Land O'Lakes shooting gets 30 years in prison 12/29/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 8:42pm]
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