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Man on trial in childhood friend's killing in Land O'Lakes

DADE CITY — Sean Stewart and James Baisden were childhood friends who fell out of touch and then reconnected years later as adults. They were partying one night in December 2007 when their friendship went awry for good.

Authorities say that during a party at Baisden's house on Shadecrest Road in Land O'Lakes, Stewart started spinning a pistol around in his hand. Alcohol and pills were being consumed, and most people at the house were intoxicated, but Stewart's behavior made them nervous.

Somebody put the guns away, and later, Stewart got upset when he couldn't find them. A brawl erupted — prosecutors say Stewart knocked out Baisden with a board; Stewart's attorneys say he was the one beaten up. Stewart then retrieved a gun from a vehicle outside and fired into Baisden's chest, authorities said. Baisden, 34, died days later from pneumonia acquired as a result of the gunshot wound, a medical examiner determined. His chronic drinking was also a factor.

Now Stewart, 37, is on trial, charged with aggravated assault and second-degree murder. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison. He claims the incident was a case of self-defense.

"At the moment that gun went off, Sean was a battered, beaten, bloody mess," one of his attorneys, Dale Marie Merrill, told jurors Tuesday. "He had been kicked in the head so hard his contact lenses had popped out."

Even that night, Stewart believed he had the right to do what he did, telling deputies "Jeb Bush told him he could do this," said Assistant State Attorney Stacey Sumner. It was a reference to Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law that says a person has no duty to retreat when being threatened. It was passed in 2005 with the support of then-Gov. Bush.

But Sumner told jurors that Stewart was in no danger.

"He wanted his guns back. That's what he wanted and that's why this shooting occurred," Sumner said.

The trial is expected to conclude today.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Man on trial in childhood friend's killing in Land O'Lakes 11/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 9:13pm]
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