DADE CITY — Sean Christopher Stewart claimed it was self-defense when he fatally shot his friend on Dec. 2, 2007. He insisted the law was on his side. He said Jeb Bush told him he could do it.
But a jury on Thursday rejected those claims, agreeing with prosecutors that Stewart committed second-degree murder when he gunned down James Scott Baisden at Baisden's Land O'Lakes house.
Stewart, 37, 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 faces the possibility of life in prison when he is sentenced next month.
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 says 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, 34, 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.
"I'm going to stand my ground, dude. Jeb Bush said I could," Stewart told a detective as he was being driven to jail. Florida's "stand your ground" law, passed in 2005 under then-Gov. Bush, says people have no duty to retreat and can meet force with force when they're being threatened.
But prosecutors said there was no threat, and it wasn't fear motivating Stewart.
"This case was about choices and alternatives," assistant state attorney Stacey 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."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.