TAMPA — In this "stand your ground" case, the main ingredients were a cat fight in a bar parking lot, women with stun guns and pepper spray, a sucker punch, and a dead man who was once notorious for his rap sheet as a 4-foot-6 fifth-grader.
For two days this week, Jimmy Lee Cruz, 34, tried to win immunity from prosecution for the second-degree murder of J.J. Revear, 28, Tampa's former poster child for juvenile delinquency. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ron Ficarrotta said the case was nothing if not "colorful."
Cruz's attorney didn't dispute that Cruz shot Revear in the grubby parking lot of the Interstate Lounge on N Nebraska Avenue in May 2011. But he claimed a crowd of hair-pulling, nose-punching women had created a lethal atmosphere. Cruz, his attorney said, shot Revear to save his brother's life.
It all began with the cat fight. When Cruz and his brother, Michael, arrived at the bar around midnight, they came upon an all-out women's slugfest, causes unknown.
The Cruz brothers stood by their car as the fight tailed off. Jimmy Cruz said something to a woman bystander that angered her girlfriends, among them Kendra Revear, J.J.'s sister. When the women threatened Cruz with stun guns and pepper spray, Cruz told them he had a gun.
At some point, Cruz threw his drink across the hood of his car, landing near Revear.
Revear had just been released from a state mental hospital where he'd been treated for a bipolar disorder. He'd become a familiar name in Tampa since his arrest as a 12-year-old for driving the getaway car in an armed robbery. Many more arrests followed him into adulthood.
"The crowd was in a frenzy mode," testified Cruz's brother, Michael. He said he came around the car and Revear punched him, knocking him down. He said several bystanders kicked him. He balled himself up in a fetal position, then heard a shot.
Other witnesses said Jimmy Cruz had come running to his brother's rescue, shooting Revear in the face.
The brothers then fled in their car.
Much of it was captured on a nine-minute cellphone video that was played several times for the judge. The shooting wasn't on the video, but most of the arguing was.
Cruz's attorney, Brian Gonzalez, said it didn't matter that Revear was unarmed. Florida's "stand your ground" law, he said, allows someone to defend himself or another person if he has a "reasonable" fear of imminent death or great bodily harm. "Jimmy had a reasonable belief," Gonzalez said. "When Mike Cruz was struck in the head, he had the right under the law to protect his brother."
Assistant State Attorney Matthew Smith said Jimmy Cruz "never acted like a scared person. . . . The defendant brought a gun to a fist fight."
Judge Ficarrotta said he would rule on "stand your ground" immunity within two weeks.
John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]