Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Lawyers: 'Stand your ground' law becoming more common defense

BROOKSVILLE — On a sticky summer night in 2010, William Siskos tucked a .22-caliber Ruger in his waistband and walked to a home on Ligonier Road in Spring Hill.

There, in the front yard, he met Joe Kasbach for the first time. In the nine months before that night, Siskos had been dating Kasbach's wife. An argument broke out almost immediately. Within minutes, authorities say, Siskos pulled his gun and fired a round into Kasbach's abdomen. The 46-year-old was pronounced dead at the hospital.

A witness, standing just feet away, told detectives Kasbach never threw a punch or pulled a weapon. Kasbach had spread his arms wide and taken just a half step toward Siskos before, the witness said, he was shot down in cold blood.

But on Monday, two years after the incident, Siskos' public defender told a judge her client had killed Kasbach in self defense. In fact, the attorney argued, Siskos shouldn't even face trial because he had done nothing more that night than stand his ground.

Judges can take days to rule on "stand your ground" motions. In Monday's hearing, which lasted eight hours and included 10 witnesses, Judge Daniel Merritt Jr. decided in just 45 minutes to deny the defense's motion that Siskos, 42, should be immune from prosecution.

The hearing in Siskos' case is a by-product of Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law signed in 2005. Though no statistics are kept on how many such hearings have been held in self-defense cases, prosecutors and defense lawyers say they're becoming more common, even when victims suffer minor injuries or defendants have weak self defense cases. They've been filed on behalf of gang members, drug dealers and in spouse abuse cases, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

"They're almost part of due diligence," said Tampa defense attorney Joe Caimano, who argued a successful "stand your ground" motion before a Hillsborough County judge late last year. His client, a bouncer at a strip club, shot and injured a patron who had thrown a beer bottle in his direction.

In 2010, Florida's Supreme Court ruled that trial judges must hold a hearing any time a defendant asks for it, then make a decision based on the "preponderance of the evidence." That's easier to prove, experts said, than the "reasonable doubt" standard used by juries.

Critics of the law say the mandatory immunity hearing adds costs and complexity to an already overburdened court system.

Monday's hearing may have bolstered that criticism. Costs included the all-day use of a courtroom, a judge, a public defender, two prosecutors, clerks and bailiffs and, for a few hours, one very expensive witness.

Dr. Otsenre E. Matos, a Pasco County psychiatrist who charges $750 an hour for court appearances, had analyzed Siskos and determined that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of an injury the defendant suffered as a corrections officer in the late 1990s.

His public defender, Barbara-Jo Bell, argued to the court that the condition had skewed her client's psyche so significantly that, two years ago, Siskos "reasonably believed" he would be killed or suffer great bodily harm — legally justifying deadly force — even though he may not have been in real danger.

In his testimony, Siskos said he carried the gun for protection that night because he was trying to retrieve his girlfriend from a friend's home — a place he described as a "drug house."

As Kasbach left the home, Siskos confronted him in the front yard. During the dispute, the defendant testified, Kasbach punched him once in the mouth and then again in the temple. Dazed from the blows, Siskos said, he fired only after he saw Kasbach reach for a weapon.

Photographs taken of his face the night of the incident show no marks or bruises. Investigators didn't find any weapon at the scene other than Siskos' pistol.

Much of what he said Monday differed from what he told authorities the night of the shooting. The stress disorder, Bell asserted, had distorted his memory back then.

Prosecutors said he's just lying.

"His PTSD didn't play any part in this," said Assistant State Attorney Sonny McCathran. "He went down there and confronted these people … the defendant was the aggressor, therefore he's not entitled to immunity."

Though Merritt ruled against her, Bell said the case she offered to the judge will mimic what she presents to jurors at trial.

The intense national scrutiny on "stand your ground," however, might make finding a jury that will accept her argument more difficult.

"I'm not sure if people are really educated on what the law is," she said. "I think I would be remiss not to bring that up in jury selection."

Times staff writer Kris Hundley contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or [email protected]

Comments
Donít call it a comeback: Jonny Venters return to majors with Rays much more than that

Donít call it a comeback: Jonny Venters return to majors with Rays much more than that

BALTIMORE — First, think of what you were doing on Oct. 5, 2012, and how much has happened in your own world since then.That will give you a time frame.Next, think of the challenge of rehabbing from two Tommy John surgeries and a third procedur...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Lightning to face Bruins in East semifinals

Lightning to face Bruins in East semifinals

The Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 7-4 in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series Wednesday night and will face the Lightning in the Eastern Conference semifinals beginning Saturday at Amalie Arena.Here is the semifinal schedule:Saturday: at Tampa, 3...
Updated: 5 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 25

Wednesdayís scoreboardBaseballCanterbury 5, Shorecrest 4SoftballClass 6A, District 6 Semifinal: Springstead 10, Citrus 0
Updated: 5 hours ago
Bucs draft scenarios: Would this guy be their lucky pick at No. 7?

Bucs draft scenarios: Would this guy be their lucky pick at No. 7?

TAMPA – This is the Rubiks Cube of NFL drafts. It can be twisted and turned it in any direction. Not many know how everything will line up.For the Bucs, the puzzle is simple.  Since they have the No. 7 overall pick, they need four quarterb...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Softball: Boca Ciega edges Tarpon Springs for 6A-9 title

Softball: Boca Ciega edges Tarpon Springs for 6A-9 title

DUNEDIN — It's hard to believe that we'll see a more emotional, more exciting game than this one throughout the rest of the postseason.Top seed Tarpon Springs and No. 2 Boca Ciega were fearless with the Class 6A-9 title on the line Wednesd...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Rays Journal: A win over ex-mate Cobb, and in a record way

BALTIMORE – The Rays knew there would be all kinds of mixed feeling seeing longtime former teammate Alex Cobb pitching against them in Orioles orange.And they made sure he didn't enjoy it.The Rays knocked Cobb out in the fifth inning, and rolle...
Updated: 7 hours ago
VA nominee considers withdrawing as new allegations emerge of drinking, wrecking government vehicle

VA nominee considers withdrawing as new allegations emerge of drinking, wrecking government vehicle

WASHINGTON ó White House physician Ronny Jackson has grown frustrated with the nomination process to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs and has told colleagues he may remove his name from consideration, two White House officials with knowledge o...
Updated: 7 hours ago
A religious group has settled in a big pink house in Clearwater. Neighbors arenít happy.

A religious group has settled in a big pink house in Clearwater. Neighbors arenít happy.

CLEARWATER ó The first thing John Trevena noticed about his new neighbors was the color of their house: Pepto-Bismol pink.It didnít worry Trevena, a criminal defense lawyer who moved into the three-bedroom rental home next door in 2015."I knew it was...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Pasco corporal who took down student on video now cleared (w/video)

Pasco corporal who took down student on video now cleared (w/video)

LAND OíLAKES ó Kayla PeŮa filled up her water bottle then returned to her lunch table at Sunlake High School when she heard a commotion in the cafeteria on Tuesday afternoon.A female student was riled up, walking back and forth, PeŮa said, screaming ...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Updated: 9 hours ago