Florida Judge Changes His Mind, Grants Stand Your Ground Immunity In Bar Brawl Shooting

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Last year, a Florida judge rejected Stand Your Ground immunity to a man who shot another at the end of a bar fight. But midway through his subsequent trial last week for attempted murder, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. changed his mind, holding that Christopher Roelofsen should have been granted Stand Your Ground immunity and acquitting Roelfosen. Because the ruling came during the trial after the jury had been sworn in, prosecutors cannot appeal the judge’s finding, and the acquittal will stand even as the facts remain in dispute.

Unlike in many other Stand Your Ground cases, victim Federico Cortes did not die. As a consequence, the two gave conflicting testimony about what happened that night. Cortes, 34, claims he pulled a knife after Roelofsen threatened him with a gun, and that a chase ensued after Cortes used the knife. Roelofsen, also 34, says he deployed his gun only after Cortes used his knife. In both scenarios, the two are in a fight outside a bar that escalated from a dispute in the bathroom. There is no dispute that Roelofsen was stabbed in the chest, nor that he chased Cortes 100 to 150 feet before he shot him.

Judge Lester halted the trial after Cortes’ testimony to say that he was acquitting Roelofsen because he believed Cortes’ testimony was inconsistent with that during the Stand Your Ground hearing a year earlier. He cited the notorious self-defense law that authorizes deadly force with no duty to retreat. Prosecutors cannot appeal a mid-trial ruling. However, had Lester granted Roelfosen’s Stand Your Ground motion after his hearing last year, prosecutors could have appealed the finding, according to Lynne Hooper, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office.

The trial occurred in the same Circuit as George Zimmerman’s for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Judge Lester would have overseen Zimmerman’s case. But Zimmerman’s lawyer successfully argued that Lester was biased against Zimmerman, and an appeals court removed Lester.

Other defendants recently granted Stand Your Ground immunity in Florida courts include a man who shot dead two 24-year-olds after he went back to his car to get his gun, and another who shot dead a mentally ill acquaintance who he says threatened to beat him up.