Titusville slaying suspect William T. Woodward claims he stood his ground

2:02 PM, Sep 5, 2013   |    comments
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(Florida Today) Attorneys for a man who police said shot three people at the culmination of a neighborhood feud have filed a motion demanding a jury determine whether William T. Woodward's murder charges should be dismissed under Florida's Stand Your Ground law.

The motion says Woodward had been the target of a variety of threats and "exercised his right under Florida law to defend himself and his family that night."

"It's probably best that you don't make threats against people, they may take you seriously," said Robert Berry, an attorney representing Woodward.

Officials say Woodward snuck up on a Labor Day barbecue and opened fire at about 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2012. Police arrived and found Gary Lee Hembree, Roger Picior and Bruce Timothy Blake all had been shot. Hembree and Picior died of their injuries. Blake, who was hit 11 times, survived.

Woodward, 44, is accused of two counts of first-degree felony murder and attempted first-degree felony murder.

Before the incident, police had responded numerous times to the ongoing dispute, according to a release. Woodward and Hembree went to court to discuss the dispute before Judge John D. Moxley. Moxley did not issue an injunction.

The motion filed by Woodward's attorneys says in the hours prior to the shooting, all three men were yelling at Woodward and that this type of behavior had been ongoing for over a month.

In the hours before the shooting, the men called him names, and said "Come on boys. We're going to get him. We're going to get him, all three of us."

Florida law allows people to use deadly force to protect against "imminent death or...prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony."

So what is "imminent"?

Assistant State Attorney Wayne Holmes explained that imminence in a Stand Your Ground case would be determined based on the facts and circumstances of the case - there isn't a concrete legal definition.

"As with many things in not only the law, but life in general, you've got to have a certain amount of flexibility," he said, later adding: "There's a certain amount of ability to take the facts, whatever they may be and apply it to that law. Sometimes it fits perfectly; sometimes it doesn't fit at all."

Holmes estimated there have been about a dozen Stand Your Ground hearings in Brevard since the law was created in 2005, and few have succeeded.

The motion filed by Woodward's attorneys cites Enoch V. State, a Florida case in which "imminent" was found to mean not only impending or ready to take place, but also expected, likely to occur or hanging threateningly over one's head.

"I think legally that term has sort of been evolving especially given changes of our government's definition of 'imminent,' " said Robert Berry, an attorney representing Woodward. "It's become more expansive than someone putting a gun right to your head. It's things that could become, you know, an immediate threat."

Woodward's attorneys argue that an attack could have been expected based on the words of his neighbors. They go on to mention the "Bush Doctrine," a concept that justifies a pre-emptive attack based on the need to defend from a threat.

Melbourne attorney Kepler Funk said it was "valid" that Woodward would want an independent jury to make this decision rather than a judge, but felt it was unlikely the court would convene one for this pretrial hearing.

"It's novel for sure, and I'm all for thinking outside the box, so I commend him for that," he said. "I don't know the court's going to grant the motion though."

Andrew Ford, Florida Today

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