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Judge Denies “Stand Your Ground” Motion In Road Rage Shooting

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James Wonder testifies at his "Stand Your Ground" hearing on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012. (Source: CBS4)

James Wonder testifies at his “Stand Your Ground” hearing on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012. (Source: CBS4)

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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — A Broward judge has ruled on a South Florida’s man motion to dismiss the manslaughter charge against him in the death of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

James Wonder admits he shot and killed Donald Pettit, 52, in the parking lot of a Pembroke Pines post office on August 5th, 2008. He claims he acted in self-defense because Pettit charged at him following a road rage incident.

“As to the manner of death, the Court finds that the most likely way the incident unfolded is that Pettit got out of his car and approached Wonder yelling, Wonder pulled out the gun, and that Pettit’s reaction to seeing the gun was to duck and turn in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid being shot,” wrote Broward Circuit Judge Bernard Bober. “The Court does find as credible Wonders claim that he was in fear of Pettit at the time he shot him and that he did not know that Pettit was a Federal agent when he shot him.”

Judge Bober however denied Wonder’s claim based on his perceptions.

“The Court Finds that Wonder unreasonably assumed that Pettit was a thug and that Pettit, although angry and yelling at Wonder, made no physical threats or verbal statement what could be reasonably interpreted to indicate that violence was imminent.”

In his motion, Wonder had claimed he was afraid and he could not take a physical beating from Pettit. Wonder is a dialysis patient who 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.

Wonder’s defense attorney claimed in court during a hearing that Wonder was entitled to be where he was, defend himself and did not have the duty to retreat – the basis of the Stand Your Ground law.

Assistant State Attorney Michelle Boutros questioned Wonder during the hearing and described him as “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.

It all started as a road rage incident 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,” Wonder testified.

Wonder has said he only wanted to stop and not kill Pettit.

Wonder will go to trial on a manslaughter charge.

The next hearing in the case will be Nov. 29th. Wonder’s attorney could appeal the ruling before the start of the trial.

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