FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — A Broward judge will soon decide whether or not a South Florida man charged with manslaughter in the death of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent will go to trial or have the case tossed out based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
Thursday, closing arguments took place in the case of James Wonder, 69, charged in the shooting death of federal agent Donald Pettit in 2008.
Wonder admits shooting Pettit, 52, in the parking lot of a Pembroke Pines post office on August 5th, 2008, but claims he acted in self-defense because Pettit was charging at him following a road rage incident.
Wonder claimed he was afraid he could not take the beating he feared Pettit was going to give him due to his frail nature. 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 the 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.
Wonder has said he only wanted to stop and not kill Pettit.
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,” Pettit testified.
Wonder said he worried that a younger, stronger Pettit would kill him and described Pettit “charging at him like a football player.”
Broward Circuit Judge Bernard Bober said he would issue a written ruling on whether Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law applies in this case but didn’t say when. If he agrees, then Wonder will be a free man but if he decides the law does not apply, Wonder will go to trial on a manslaughter charge. Judge Bober set a court date for Nov. 29th but said the ruling would come before then.
Either side can appeal Bober’s eventual ruling.