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Pinellas judge tosses charges against man under new 'stand your ground' law

The case against Bobby Ryan, 40, is likely the first time the updated law was used in Pinellas.
Published Aug. 5, 2017

LARGO — Charges against a 40-year-old man involved in a fatal scuffle outside a St. Petersburg bar were dismissed this week after his defense attorneys invoked the state's new "stand your ground" law.

Bobby Ryan of St. Petersburg was charged with manslaughter after he was accused of punching Christopher Motlenski, who later died from complications of his injuries. On Thursday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Frank Quesada granted his motion to dismiss the case.

Under Florida law, a person "does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground" if they believe they or others could face imminent death or great bodily harm.

Previously, it was up to the defense to show their client is immune from prosecution under this law. But in the spring, the state Legislature revised the law, shifting the burden of proof to prosecutors.

Ryan's case is likely the first time the new law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June, was invoked in a Pinellas courtroom.

According to court records filed by Ryan's defense attorneys, James Beach and Richard Watts, this is what happened the night of Feb. 10, 2016. At 2 a.m., Ryan and friend Torsten Simpson, arrived at Angelo's Grill and Bar on First Avenue N in downtown St. Petersburg to pick up some sandwiches.

They were standing near the bar when Motlenski began an argument with them about their British accents. An employee escorted Motlenski, 53, outside. When Simpson and Ryan left the bar, Motlenski "continued to harass the defendant," records stated. The men threw punches and Motlenski "bull charged" Simpson against a pair of doors, drawing other patrons' attention.

That's when Ryan punched Motlenski, who fell and hit his head on the pavement. Ryan was initially arrested on a charge of felony battery. After Motlenski died of complications, the charge was upgraded to manslaughter.

"It was just a tragic accident that shouldn't have happened," said Beach, adding that Motlenski's comments and aggression toward Simpson "led my client to believe that there was certainly danger involved."

In an all-day hearing July 6, prosecutors and defense attorneys presented their arguments to Quesada. On Thursday, the judge dismissed Ryan's charges.

Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com. Follow @lauracmorel.

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