DADE CITY — Within minutes of firing his gun at James Baisden, Sean Stewart was invoking Florida law.
"I'm going to stand my ground, dude. Jeb Bush said I could," Stewart told a detective as he was being driven to jail the night of the Dec. 2, 2007, shooting. The state's so-called "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.
Stewart, on trial this week charged with second-degree murder and aggravated assault, took the stand Wednesday and said he had been beaten unconscious by Baisden and others in a dispute over Stewart's guns. Stewart said he brought them into Baisden's Land O'Lakes house, where a group of people were watching football and drinking. Stewart was showing off the laser grips and other features of the weapons when the others at the house got nervous and put them away.
Later on, when Stewart went to retrieve them from a drawer, he said they were gone — stolen.
When he questioned Baisden about them, he said Baisden swung on him, then others jumped into the beating. He said he got knocked in the back of the head so hard his contact lenses came out, and he passed out on the floor.
When he woke up, he went out to his truck but didn't have his keys. He broke the passenger window and retrieved a .22-caliber pistol from inside the cab. When he saw Baisden and his roommate in the yard, he asked them again about his belongings, and they attacked him again, he said.
"I walked up over there and they started saying, 'We're going to whoop your f------ a-- again,' " Stewart told a detective in a recorded interview.
As Baisden charged at him, Stewart said he fired twice.
"What was your intention when you did that?" sheriff's Detective Mark Moe asked him.
"My intention was to not get my a-- kicked," Stewart said. "Dude, I reacted out of reflex and fear for my life."
During the interview, Stewart insisted he was a victim of battery and several times asked about Baisden, who had been his childhood friend.
Baisden, 34, died several days after the shooting from an infection that resulted from his gunshot wound, according to a medical examiner.
Prosecutors have put forth a different version of the night's events. They say the shooting was not about self-defense at all; that Stewart just wanted his guns back.
"Why did you put (the gun) in your pocket?" Assistant State Attorney Stacey Sumner asked Stewart.
"Because it's my right," he answered.
"Why didn't you leave?" she asked.
"Because I didn't have my keys," he said.
In the interview with Moe, Stewart acknowledged one thing he could have done differently:
"Why didn't you call us?" the detective asked him.
"I should have," Stewart said.
Jurors will hear closing arguments in the case this morning and then begin deliberating. Stewart, 37, faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.