Fla. task force begins review of self-defense law

June 12, 2012 - 6:35 PM

LONGWOOD, Fla. (AP) — The parents of a 17-year-old teen killed by a neighborhood watch captain asked a task force reviewing Florida's "stand your ground law" Tuesday to recommend changing it so that defendants who initiate a confrontation can't use it as part of their self-defense argument.

Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton asked the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection to support a "Trayvon Martin amendment" to the law, which currently gives defendants wide latitude in claiming self-defense. The 2005 legislation allows individuals to use deadly force provided they are doing nothing illegal and relieves them of a duty to retreat if they believe their lives are in jeopardy.

Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman, has claimed self-defense and is pleading not guilty to a second-degree murder charge. He killed Martin in February during a confrontation in a gated community in Sanford, several miles from where the task force held its first public hearing Tuesday. About 100 people attended.

Zimmerman had spotted Martin walking through the community and reported him as suspicious to a 911 dispatcher. The dispatcher advised Zimmerman not to follow the teen. Zimmerman claims he lost sight of Martin and was returning to his vehicle when he was attacked. Martin's family blames Zimmerman for initiating the confrontation.

"We need to review this law," Fulton told task force members. "I'm not saying take it away. Just review and amend it. I had to bury my son at 17. He was committing no crime. He was doing no wrong."

Gov. Rick Scott appointed the task force to review the law following Martin's death. But the group's chairwoman, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, said the review wasn't going to be limited to the confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman. The task force will hold five more hearings around the state before presenting its recommendations to the Florida Legislature next year.

"This is not about the Zimmerman case, and we don't want to make it that because we want to stay unbiased and unfettered from any other case," Carroll said.

But the Martin case hovered over the hearing. Before testifying, Martin and Fulton joined a coalition of gun-control supporters and civil rights advocates who delivered boxes containing 340,000 petitions asking for changes to the "stand your ground" law.

"This is definitely personal for us," Tracy Martin said. "What the law says to us is that it's OK to be a vigilante."

Frank Darden, 63, told task force members that without the law he wouldn't have been able to draw his gun during a confrontation last year with a tenant he was trying to evict. The tenant threatened him with a fillet knife but then backed down when Darden drew his gun.

"Without that law, I would have been stabbed to death," said Darden, a firearms instructor. "I believe I wouldn't be here without that law."

But Barbara Standard said the law allowed the killer of her 46-year-old son to avoid charges.

"This law is a license to kill," Standard said.

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