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Shooting death near Weeki Wachee in May ruled justifiable homicide

George Avedissian, 68, was killed in a struggle in May.

George Avedissian, 68, was killed in a struggle in May.

BROOKSVILLE — Four months ago, after Joshua Harth fatally shot 68-year-old George Avedissian, detectives would say only that the shooting happened during an altercation between the two men.

The case was turned over to the State Attorney's Office for review. On Monday, Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino said the shooting appeared to be a case of justifiable homicide and that Harth, who was 24 at the time, will not be charged with a crime.

"From the materials submitted by law enforcement and other related agencies, it was determined that the death of Mr. Avedissian was caused by justifiable use of deadly force as a result of deadly combat," Magrino said.

A memo Magrino penned for his office's file includes Harth's account of what happened on May 23 and some evidence in the case that led to Magrino's decision not to charge him.

Harth was renting a room at Avedissian's home at 8743 Ostrom Way, north of Weeki Wachee. About 8 p.m. that evening, Harth was awakened by Avedissian banging on the bedroom door. Harth said Avedissian was complaining about an open can of soup left in the kitchen as he kicked in the door.

The argument escalated. Avedissian left and returned with a 9mm carbine rifle and told Harth to leave the house. Harth said he went out to the back yard and Avedissian fired the rifle and ran at Harth with the gun still pointed at him. There was a struggle, and Harth took the rifle and fired.

Avedissian was hit once in the lower abdomen and once in the lower back. Harth tossed the gun down, called 911 and said he shot Avedissian during a struggle. In an interview with detectives, Harth was "crying and upset at times while also stating on more than one occasion that he thought (Avedissian) was going to kill him," Magrino wrote.

Detectives found signs of forced entry to the bedroom, a soup can in the bedroom and a bullet hole in the rear lanai.

Another man who rented a room at the house was not home at the time but told detectives there was disharmony between Harth and Avedissian that appeared to be prompted by Avedissian. The man also described Avedissian as an alcoholic who became aggressive in the afternoons and was "subject to outbursts usually directed at Harth."

An autopsy revealed Avedissian had a blood-alcohol level of 0.106 at the time of his death. Florida law presumes a motorist to be impaired at a level of 0.08.

In the memo, Magrino noted that Florida law defines homicide as excusable when "committed by accident and misfortune in … or upon sudden combat." The courts have expanded the concept of excusable homicide to include the use of a weapon during sudden combat. Magrino said the lead detective on the case agreed with the decision.

Magrino does not cite the state's controversial stand your ground law, which says a person "has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground" if he or she thinks deadly force is necessary to prevent death, great bodily harm or commission of a forcible felony like robbery.

Harth could not be reached for comment. The Times has been unable to reach Avedissian's family members.

Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431.

Shooting death near Weeki Wachee in May ruled justifiable homicide 09/23/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 23, 2013 9:09pm]
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