Tampa veteran's mother fights mandatory minimum sentencing

A local airman is behind bars under the third-strike law, but his family says it was self-defense.

A quarter century - that's what Phyllis Giles son is serving, not in the Air Force where Michael planned to retire, but in a Florida prison.

Michael Giles’ family is fighting Florida’s state law mandating minimum sentences.

Giles is now six years into his sentence that advocates call unjust.

Thursday, his attorneys filed another round of appeals.

His story's been seen nearly 50,000 times on Facebook in 2 days.

Giles’ mom, Phyllis, tells 10News she won’t quit fighting until her son is home.

“I melted. I couldn't believe it, because 25 years that's harsh,” she says.

In 2010, he'd been back at Mac Dill Air Force Base after serving two tours overseas. He was spending a night out with friends in Tallahassee when a fight broke out outside of a bar.

“He came up behind him and sucker punched him in the side of his face,” says Giles.

His mom says his training kicked in and her son fired two shots, grazing his accused attacker in the leg.

“I'm just thinking, 'It was self-defense. He'll be home soon. This is not going to last long.' It’s not right. It's just not the way the law works. It didn't work the way we thought,” Giles says.

Under Florida's 10-20-life law, Michael got the minimum 25-year mandatory sentence for hurting someone with a gun.

“It's an unnecessarily harsh sentence.  It's a heartbreaking sentence and it can be fixed, it could be fixed tomorrow,” says Greg Newburn with Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

The non-profit argues judges should have the discretion to ensure the punishment fits the crime and is calling for lawmakers to take a hard look at sentencing reform.

Last year, they got aggravated assault off the list, basically firing a warning shot without hitting someone. But the change isn’t retroactive for people already sentenced, and Michael's charged with aggravated battery.

“It really is hurting him a lot, because he was not on that path,” says Giles.

They're holding out hope, filing an appeal with the District Court of Appeals based on ineffective counsel.

Giles says the day of trial, Michael's attorney threw out the stand your ground defense.

Another option? 

A Change.org petition has more than 130,000 supporters, calling on Gov. Rick Scott and the Clemency Board to commute Michael's sentence: reducing his prison time or letting him go with time served.

“Put it on the agenda at a Clemency Board hearing.  Take all of the information and decide whether the sentence is appropriate or not.  Unfortunately, they're the only people that can do that,” says Newburn.

“We want our son to come home.  The amount of time Michael was given is truly a barbaric,” says Giles.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is looking at expanding the use of federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws saying when they're eliminated or reduced it limits law enforcement's ability to protect the public.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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