In 2006, Laurie Lynn Bartlett killed her boyfriend.
She said he was drunk and tried to sexually assault her. She put a knife in him and got 10 years.
A year later, Ernestine Broxsie killed her ex-boyfriend.
She said he “snapped” and began choking her, so she put a bullet in him. She walked free.
Two similar cases with one big difference — Bartlett’s victim was white, Broxsie’s was black.
The dramatic contrast in outcomes might not have had anything to do with the victims’ race. But it reflects a reality about Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.
A Tampa Bay Times analysis of almost 200 cases — the first to examine the role of race in Stand Your Ground — found that people who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the time, while those who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time.
“I don’t think judges or prosecutors or whoever works in the field of criminal justice is consciously saying black life is worth less than that of other ethnicities,” said Kareem Jordan, a criminologist at the University of Central Florida. “But at the end of the day, it could be something that’s subconscious going on if you look at how the media depicts black life.”
Questions of race have surrounded Florida’s Stand Your Ground law since the February shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, by George Zimmerman, a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer.
Did the teenager’s race have something to do with the initial decision not to charge Zimmerman?
If Zimmerman had been black, would authorities in Sanford have been so quick to accept his claim of self-defense? Are black defendants less likely to walk free than people of other races in Stand Your Ground cases?
The Times analysis found no obvious bias in how black defendants have been treated:
• Whites who invoked the law were charged at the same rate as blacks.
• Whites who went to trial were convicted at the same rate as blacks.
• In mixed-race cases involving fatalities, the outcomes were similar. Four of the five blacks who killed a white went free; five of the six whites who killed a black went free.
• Overall, black defendants went free 66 percent of the time in fatal cases compared to 61 percent for white defendants — a difference explained, in part, by the fact blacks were more likely to kill another black.
“Let’s be clear,” said Alfreda Coward, a black Fort Lauderdale lawyer whose clients are mostly black men. “This law was not designed for the protection of young black males, but it’s benefiting them in certain cases.”
The Times analysis does not prove that race caused the disparity in cases with black and white victims. Other factors may be at play.
The analysis, for example, found that black victims were more likely to be carrying a weapon when they were killed. They also were more likely than whites to be committing a crime, such as burglary, at the time.
Experts note that most cases have unique combinations of facts and circumstances that determine whether a person goes free or goes to prison. They caution against drawing conclusions on statistics alone.
And although the Times’ analysis probably included most of Florida’s fatal Stand Your Ground cases, some could be missing. That can make a big difference when there are few cases to examine. For example, the Times found only 26 completed cases in which a black person was killed and only eight fatalities with a Hispanic victim.