"Stand Your Ground" Manslaughter Road-Rage Shooting Case to Begin

October 25, 2012

An apparent case of road-rage escalated to the shooting of an off-duty federal Customs and Border Protection agent when the agent followed the suspect pulling his car into a post office parking lot. The agent was killed as a result of the shooting.

James Patrick Wonder, 69, a retired Miramar man allegedly shot and killed Donald Pettit after an intense argument as the two men were driving in Pembroke Pines back in 2008.

Court officials returned to the post office crime scene on Monday, located at Pines Boulevard and Dykes Road.

According to the police report, on the morning of Aug. 5, 2008, Wonder and Pettit got into a shouting match, pointing fingers at each other while driving in the vicinity. Pettit, who was 52 at the time and who worked as a polygrapher for the agency, then got out of his car to confront Wonder in the parking lot. It was then, when Petit left his vehicle, that Wonder shot the agent once in the head.

Originally, authorities wanted to charge Wonder with premeditated first degree murder. However he has since been indicted on manslaughter charges by a Florida grand jury. He was then released after posting bond in the amount of $10,000.00. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted

Wonder's defense lawyers argue that he is immune from prosecution under Florida's Stand Your Ground self-defense law. They have stated that Wonder feared for his life as the larger, younger and stronger man walked quickly toward him, yelling "Who do you think you are, slick?"

Wonder has claimed self-defense since his arrest, and his lawyers have given a low profile of his actions since the shooting occurred. However, records show that Wonder fled the scene and kept a dialysis appointment forty minutes later in Miramar. The next day, he greased his hair, making it appear darker, and then rented a car instead of using his own so he would not be seen in the vehicle described by Pettit's 12-year-old daughter. Pettit's daughter witnessed the road rage incident and overheard the shooting.

The prosecution submits that Wonder was angry and not in fear for his life.

Last Tuesday, in opening statements before Broward Circuit Judge Bernard Bober, Assistant State Attorney Michelle Boutros said "the Stand Your Ground defense should not be applied merely because Wonder says he felt threatened. It's not what Wonder would believe," she said. "It's what a reasonable person would believe. Not an angry person."

Boutros' comments raised the probability that prosecutors will count on the testimony of nurses at the kidney dialysis center in Davie, where Wonder was arrested the following day. According to the nurses, Wonder confessed to having anger management issues, investigators said.

Wonder's self-defense claim is relying on Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which states that individuals who are following the law have no duty to retreat in the face of a threat, and that those individuals may meet force with force if they believe it is necessary to protect themselves or another, or to prevent a forcible felony.

In a Stand Your Ground case, a judge listens to the evidence without a jury present and decides whether it is likely that the defendant was acting to prevent death or grievous bodily harm to himself or another person in an area he had the right to be. If the defense succeeds, the judge will usually dismiss the case.

Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law came into the National spotlight when police became the target of anger and protest for initially failing to arrest George Zimmerman after he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

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