PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. -- Relatives of young men killed in "Stand Your Ground" cases in Palm Beach County over the past five years say they want to testify before the task force studying the controversial law after the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford.
"I will do anything I can to get that law changed," said Lisa Palmer, 50, mother of Michael Palmer, who was shot to death after a 2007 boating altercation with another man at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach.
Meanwhile, the shooter in another of those incidents who was exonerated under the law said he sees no similarities between his case and the Sanford killing.
Michael Monahan saw all charges against him dropped after he shot two men who boarded his boat last April amid a squabble over unpaid boating violations. That incident also happened in the waters off Phil Foster Park.
"I don't see many similarities at all with my case," said Monahan, 66. "This man who did the shooting in this new case followed that kid. He was walking around with a gun. The fact that he got out of his truck to go after the kid means the kid wasn't trying to get into the truck. That differs from my understanding of the law."
Martin, who was black, was killed Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, 28, a white Hispanic, in a gated community in Sanford. The teen, who was staying nearby, was on his way back from a convenience store with candy and a drink when he was seen by Zimmerman, who called 911 and said he had spotted a "suspicious" person. On the 911 tapes, a dispatcher advises Zimmerman to stay in his vehicle. Zimmerman didn't. Instead, he followed Martin and later told police that Martin attacked him, which is why he shot Martin in the chest.
The stand-your-ground law, enacted in Florida in 2005 and the first of its kind in the nation, allows individuals who feel threatened to use deadly force to defend themselves. Gov. Rick Scott named a task force to study it in response to the nationwide clamor over the case.
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"I feel absolutely terrible for that boy's parents," said Judy Mohlman, 70, whose son Ramie, 49, was one of the two men shot and killed by Monahan. "He was only 17, that boy in that Sanford case. My son was older, but that's still no excuse. The issue is the same one."
Monahan had bought a 35-foot sailboat from Ramie Mohlman months before the shooting. He had then apparently racked up tickets for boating violations, but because the title had not been transferred, Mohlman was being held responsible for them. Mohlman had complained to the older man once before - but, according to testimony, had not produced the tickets. On April 3, Mohlman went to the boat with his friend Matthew Vittum to confront Monahan.
An autopsy later revealed that Mohlman had a blood-alcohol level of 0.23 percent, almost three times the limit at which a person is a person is considered too intoxicated to drive. Vittum's level was 0.11 percent, slightly over the limit. He also had cocaine in his blood. Neither man was armed, but Monahan told police he felt his life was threatened and that he shot them in self-defense.
Testimony in the trial revealed that neither of the men touched Monahan and that Vittum had been shot by Monahan from 20 feet away. But Circuit Judge Richard Oftedahl ruled that actual physical contact was not necessary for the stand-your-ground law to be invoked. He dismissed the charges against Monahan, who says today what he said then: that he acted in self-defense.
"I just hope that they look at the law," Judy Mohlman said. "It gives a person a right to shoot someone without having to think, and I say that's wrong. Let's say you don't like your neighbor. He comes over. There are no other witnesses. Suddenly, 'bang, bang,' he's dead, and nobody knows what really happened. This law could bring a lot of bad things to a lot of people."
"And this should also not be one judge's choice," Mohlman added. "Juries should decide these cases."
'Too many loopholes'
Ginger Payne, 52, whose son Jason, 22, was shot to death outside a party in Wellington in November 2007, also thinks the law needs to be rewritten.
Jason Payne was hosting the party. According to trial testimony, William Wilkerson Jr., 19, arrived and at one point was flirting with Payne's girlfriend. Payne asked him to leave. Both men were drunk, and others at the party said Wilkerson then threatened to kill Payne.
But he left and Payne followed him to his truck. Payne, who was unarmed, struck the window of the truck twice, breaking it. Wilkerson then shot Payne in the chest, killing him.
A jury ruled that Wilkerson was not guilty of murder on the basis of the stand-your-ground law. He later was convicted of a lesser charge of discharging a firearm from a vehicle and sentenced to four years in prison.
"We couldn't understand it," Ginger Payne said. "He was in his vehicle and could have left instead of firing his gun. Also, he was found guilty of firing a gun from a vehicle. And if that's a crime, how can the