FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A jury found Thursday afternoon that a Fort Pierce man was justified in stabbing and killing a man under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.
After hearing a day and a half of testimony, jurors deliberated about three hours Thursday afternoon before finding Gilberto Galvez not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Carlos Pereza in the early morning hours of March 19, 2011.
After the verdict, Deputy Public Defender Dorothy Naumann said Galvez' case "fit squarely into the way the 'Stand Your Ground' law allows you to protect yourself, your loved ones and your home."
Florida Statutes 776.012(1) states: "A person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another, or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony."
According to Fort Pierce Police Department reports, Galvez and the 25-year-old Pereza were among a group of men who had been out drinking the night of March 18, 2011. Galvez invited Pereza, who was drunk and high on cocaine, to sleep on the couch in the house in the 1600 block of Citrus Avenue that Galvez shared with his girlfriend, Maria Diaz, and three others.
While Galvez, 43, was driving one of the other men home, Pereza allegedly went into the room Galvez shares with Diaz, who was asleep, and touched her.
Diaz called Galvez on his cellphone, and he returned to the house.
Galvez testified Wednesday he grabbed a knife as he was leading Pereza out of the house, but that Pereza stopped and confronted him.
In the struggle that ensued, Galvez said, he stabbed and killed Pereza.
Facing a man who was "drunk and high on cocaine," who had "attacked" Diaz, who wouldn't leave the premises and "now had turned on Mr. Galvez," Naumann asked jurors, "How was (Galvez) not supposed to use deadly force? The fact is, under Florida law, he was allowed to stab him until he was dead. That's all you need to know as jurors to decide this case."
Assistant State Attorney Daryl Isenhower countered that Galvez' testimony didn't jibe with evidence in the case, particularly with the photos of Pereza's body, which had at least seven stab wounds on the neck and upper torso and bruising on the chin.
"The defendant wants you to believe there was a struggle," Isenhower said. "There was no struggle. The defendant had the upper hand on the victim. He was literally on top of him, stabbing him and holding him down with his other arm."
A bite Galvez received on his hand during the altercation, Isenghowe said "was simply the victim's desperate attempt to save his life."
After the verdict, Naumann said jurors "felt Mr. Galvez was sufficiently threatened to have every right to defend himself."
Naumann said jurors were aware of the "Stand Your Ground" law before they entered the courtroom because of the publicity surrounding the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen who was killed Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, an armed crime watch volunteer in a gated community in Sanford.
"This case is a lot different than the Zimmerman case," Naumann said. "For one thing, my client never stalked (Pereza); he was never the aggressor."
Asked if "Stand Your Ground," which went into effect in 2006, was a factor in the jurors' decision, Isenhower said, "There's no way to know what they based their verdict on. We would just be guessing what they were focusing on."
Naumann said Galvez "came across as very credible" when he took the witness stand.
"He admitted to all the bad things," she said. "If he wanted to make up a story, there were a lot of ways he could have come up with a better one than what he admitted to."
Isenhower argued to jurors that Galvez' attempts to hide evidence — putting Pereza in his car and pushing it across the street, cleaning blood off the driveway, hiding the knife and bloody clothes on top of the house and lying to police about knowing the victim — showed "consciousness of guilt."
"Why would he make self-defense look like murder?" Isenhower asked. "Why didn't he leave the crime scene alone so that self-defense looked like self-defense? Why? Because it was murder."
Naumann said Galvez's attempt to hide evidence "doesn't prove his intent. It proves that he didn't know he had a strong defense" and was protected by Florida's "no retreat" law.
Despite the not-guilty verdict, Galvez is not a free man; he is being held at the St. Lucie County Jail to be turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for being an illegal immigrant.