NEW PORT RICHEY — Two fathers scuffled on a crowded downtown street during the Chasco Fiesta. One was armed, police say, and the other was not.
Max Wesley Horn Jr. gunned down Joe Martell, police say, then was tackled as he tried to escape.
The two families, now forever linked by that March 29 night, filled Courtroom 3A on Thursday to debate the freedom of the man accused of murder.
Should bail be set for Horn? Or should he remain in jail, where he awaits trial for second-degree murder and could face life in prison for Martell's death?
Circuit Judge Thane Covert ruled that no bail should be set, that Horn should stay in jail.
But new details did emerge as the state and defense previewed the cases they're preparing for trial. The defense also made this admission:
Max Horn Jr. will not deny he pulled the trigger.
"There is no question (Horn) did the act," defense attorney Keith Hammond told the judge. "It's all going to come down to — and you can read between the lines of my cross-examination — intent and self-defense."
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Police say it started with two men arguing outside a bar during the annual festival.
Hammond offered the defense's version of the case, and how he'll try to defend Horn:
The defense painted the victim, Martell, as a brawler. The lawyer said that after the first scuffle, the defendant warned the victim that he was armed, that he should stay away from him.
The attorney compared the sizes of the two men: Martell, age 34, at 6 feet 6, 328 pounds; Horn, age 46, at 6 feet, 270 pounds. The defense said Horn, a father of three, is also fragile and might need a heart transplant.
And it was the victim, the defense said, who went after the defendant a second time.
"The victim was involved in several scuffles," Hammond said, "and re-engaged after being warned that Mr. Horn had a gun."
The attorney may be laying the groundwork for a jury to consider one of the legal defenses for murder: justifiable use of deadly force.
"If he reasonably believes that he's going to sustain great bodily harm," Hammond said later, "then he's justified in using deadly force."
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The state countered that theory with forensic evidence: an analysis of how Martell was shot left to right, front to back and at a downward angle.
"From your experience and training what does that tell you?" asked Assistant State Attorney Neil O'Brien.
"That he was either turning away, being pulled away or he was not in direct confrontation with the person with the gun," said New Port Richey Police Detective Randy Murphy.
Despite a criminal record, Horn had a concealed weapons permit. He had never been adjudicated guilty of any charge.
Horn shot Martell with a .45 semiautomatic with a laser sight, the detective testified, pulling the trigger until the gun jammed. Six spent shell casings were found.
"He was basically shot in cold blood in the middle of the street," the prosecutor told the judge.
Mary Martell is mother of the victim and grandmother of his 7-year-old son, Travis. She said Horn did not kill her son in self-defense.
"Even though he had a concealed weapons permit he should not have had a gun at a family event like the Chasco Fiesta," she told the court. "He should have had more self-control than that.
"He shot to kill, not for protection."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236.