Judy Mohlman thought there would at least be a trial. She said as much to her niece when she called to tell her that Michael Monahan, the man who shot Mohlman's son Raymond to death in April, had walked out of the Palm Beach County jail a free man.
In an application of Florida's controversial "Stand your Ground" statute, Circuit Judge Richard Oftedahl last week dismissed two first-degree murder charges against Monahan, 65, ruling that he was justified in shooting Raymond "Ramie" Mohlman and Matthew Vittum out of fear for his life during a dispute aboard a 35-foot sailboat anchored near Phil Foster Park.
"I don't understand it," Judy Mohlman said. "My whole family, we just didn't think it would happen this way."
In the 11-page ruling filed Tuesday, Oftedahl reconstructed details of the Sunday afternoon shooting, calling it a clear case of justified force under "Stand your Ground," an act signed into law in 2005 which gives a person the right to respond with force when threatened with death or bodily harm.
Riviera Beach police arrived at the park April 3 to find Monahan paddling his kayak away from the Green Galleon, where Ramie Mohlman and Vittum lay dead. In interviews with police Monahan said the men had tried to remove him from the sailboat, which he had bought from Mohlman six months earlier for $1,000.
Mohlman, 49, a one-time competitive wrestler who quit his teaching job at Palm Beach Lakes Community High School in June 2010 and spent much of the next 10 months in Belize, had confronted Monahan claiming the older man had racked up $500 in tickets in his name because he refused to register the boat properly. Mohlman had previously confronted Monahan about the tickets, saying the fees prevented him from taking a trip back to Belize.
But according to Monahan's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, witnesses told police that by the time Mohlman boarded the Green Galleon with Vittum on the day they died, his plans were to either evict Monahan from the boat or kill him.
In the motion to dismiss the charges Ramsey filed in August, she pointed out that Monahan said Mohlman never showed him any proof of the tickets and felt cornered when Mohlman and Vittum boarded his boat without his permission. He said he didn't have time to call police.
"Monahan unequivocally stated 'I was afraid for my life,' " Ramsey wrote.
Ramsey also noted that autopsy reports later showed that Mohlman's blood-alcohol level was at .23 when he died, nearly three times the level at which drivers are presumed legally impaired. Vittum's blood-alcohol level was .11 and the autopsy concluded he had cocaine, oxycodone and marijuana in his system when he was killed.
In her attempt to stop Oftedahl from dismissing the charges, Assistant State Attorney Jacqui Charbonneau pointed out that, among other things, that neither victim was armed when they boarded the boat. Charbonneau said Vittum was standing 20 feet away on the bow of the boat when Monahan shot him. Monahan also admitted that neither man ever touched him during the confrontation, and at the time of the shooting, Mohlman was still the legal owner of the Green Galleon.
Oftedahl noted those facts in his ruling, but said the law didn't require the men either to be armed or actually commit physical violence for Monahan to have a reasonable fear that they would either kill or severely harm him aboard the boat that had been his home since October 2010.
Prosecutors had originally sought the death penalty against Monahan but later dropped that pursuit. Charbonneau on Friday said she respected Oftedahl's ruling but stood by her arguments that a jury should have decided whether Monahan acted in self-defense.
Monahan's release marks the second case in as many years where a shooting at Phil Foster Park ended with freedom for a shooter using the "Stand Your Ground" statute as a defense.
In May 2010, a jury acquitted Timothy McTigue of second-degree murder in the 2007 death of 23 year-old Michael Palmer, who died after the two fought briefly and McTigue shot Palmer in the back of the head as Palmer hoisted himself out of the water around a floating dock.
For Judy Mohlman, the release of the man who fatally shot her son, leaves her with more questions than answers. Her son's death five months ago marked the second time she has lost a child. Her daughter died at 21 from an epileptic seizure.
Judy Mohlman said her son "wasn't perfect" but also believes Monahan got away with murder.
"The hardest part is not getting anymore phone calls from him," Judy Monahan said of her son. "I miss hearing his voice."
Staff Researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.
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