Man Says Frail Stature Forced Him To Shoot “Angry” Off-Duty Federal Agent
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South Florida Crime
FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – There were some dramatic moments inside a Fort Lauderdale courtroom Tuesday as a 69-year-old man who shot and killed a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent in 2008 is seen on videotape clutching his own chest and having trouble breathing.
The tape comes from a police detective’s interrogation of James Patrick Wonder the day after 52-year-old Border Protection Agent Donald Pettit was shot in the head and killed following a road rage incident in Pembroke Pines on Aug. 5th of 2008.
The 69-year-old Wonder, a Miramar ‘retiree’ and a dialysis patient, is at first seen speaking with the detective about his case, saying “I didn’t go there to kill someone and I just feel bad but there was nothing I could do.”
Suddenly, Wonder becomes more anxious as he asks the detective about his case.
“I guess I’m up for murder 2? Could that mean the death penalty?” Wonder asks.
“No,” says the detective. “Life in prison.”
Suddenly, Wonder is seen holding his chest and having trouble breathing. You hear loud wheezing from him on the tape.
“Are you having chest pains?” asks the detective? “Right now?”
Wonder continues to wheeze and the detective says, “I’ll get you fire rescue.”
“I can’t get air,” Wonder says.
Paramedics are called and Wonder is taken to a hospital.
The tape was played as his defense attorneys Michael Entin and Frank Maister are trying to get the manslaughter charge against Wonder dismissed on the basis of the Stand Your Ground Law.
Defense attorneys say Wonder was entitled to be where he was and defend himself and did not have the duty to retreat—the basis of the law.
Wonder had previously described himself as frail from the effects of kidney failure and dialysis treatment that he had undergone since he was diagnosed with renal failure in 2005.
He had said he could not take a beating which he feared Pettit was going to inflict on him.
Assistant State Attorney Michelle Boutros had some pointed remarks Tuesday for Circuit Judge Bernard Bober as she was questioning Wonder.
She said of Wonder, “He’s an angry, nasty, vile man who has anger issues.” The state has said that Wonder had an anger problem and shot Pettit because he was despondent over his failing health.
Wonder has said he only wanted to stop and not kill Pettit.
The incident happened as the men were traveling northbound on Dykes Road towards Pines Boulevard.
Wonder said he noticed a driver in a black Dodge Charger just “inches from his back bumper” as he drove to the post office. He said he changed lanes and then exchanged an obscene gesture with the driver.
At that point investigators said Pettit followed Wonder into the post office lot.
Wonder had testified that he did not know that Pettit was a federal agent and claimed he didn’t know that Pettit’s 12-year-old daughter was in the back seat of his car.
“When he drove into that lot, I knew I had dwindling choices,” Pettit testified on Tuesday.
Wonder said he worried that a younger, stronger Pettit would kill him.
Wonder has a surgically-placed Fistula in his left arm and he said he worried that if it ruptured, it could kill him.
“I’m too old and frail to get into a fight,” Wonder said. “I could end up being thrown to the ground. I could bleed to death. I just wanted it to be over with. I didn’t want to be hurt.”
Wonder was asked about Pettit’s state of mind.
“I heard screaming at the top of his lungs,” Wonder said. He said Pettit “had to be crazy. I bruise easily. My bones are brittle. I could have been killed in a heart beat by that person. It wasn’t I who was angry. Mr. Pettit was angry.”
On Monday, Wonder testified that Pettit was cursing as well as screaming at the “top of his lungs. He was charging me like a football player and never stopped. I thought he would beat and kill me.”
Wonder said it took him awhile to get over what happened.
“It was a horrible night and day,” he testified. “I couldn’t sleep a wink.”
On Monday, Wonder testified that he went into a panic mode after the shooting because he said, “I never shot anybody before.”
Wonder said he went home and then tried to get a dialysis appointment but his blood pressure was so high they refused to treat him.
He said he never called police because once he realized that hundreds of law enforcement officers were looking for him, he didn’t feel he would survive a takedown.
Prosecutors said Wonder acted like a guilty man, slicking his hair to a different color and renting a car to go to a dialysis appointment the next days.
Prosecutors planned to call more than a half dozen witnesses to testify.
The case is expected to be finished by the end of next week.
The judge will decide if Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law applies in this case.
If he agrees, then Wonder will be a free man.
However, if he decides that law does not apply, Wonder will go to trial on a manslaughter charge.