Miramar retiree who shot and killed an off-duty federal agent following a road rage incident in 2008 will call 35 to 40 witnesses to testify at hearings later this month to determine if he is immune from prosecution under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, defense attorneys said Wednesday after a hearing in Broward court.
Broward Circuit Judge Bernard Bober said the pre-trial hearings will begin Oct. 29, and could take eight to 10 days to complete.
Bober then will decide whether to proceed with a trial for James Wonder, 69, who is charged with manslaughter for shooting to death U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Donald Pettit following a heated argument between the men while they were driving in Pembroke Pines. Wonder faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
According to police reports, Wonder and Pettit, who was 52-years-old at the time, got into a shouting and finger-pointing match while driving on Pines Boulevard near Dykes Road on the morning of Aug. 5, 2008.
Wonder then pulled into a post office parking lot, and Pettit followed, though he may have used a different entrance.
Pettit, who worked as a polygrapher, then got out of his car to confront Wonder, who shot the agent once in the head.
After the shooting, Wonder sped away and drove to a Davie dialysis treatment center for a scheduled appointment. But nurses declined to treat Wonder because he was agitated and his blood pressure was elevated.
Wonder then drove home, hid the gun, changed his hair color and rented a car to hide his involvement in the shooting, police said.
A manhunt involving about 200 law enforcement officers ensued, and Wonder was arrested the following day after returning to the dialysis center for treatment.
Wonder, a New York native, had a concealed weapons permit and no prior criminal history, according to public records. He has lived with his wife, Aurora, in Miramar since about 1996.
Prosecutors initially charged Wonder with first-degree murder. But a Broward grand jury rejected murder charges in August 2008, and instead handed up the manslaughter charge. Wonder posted bail several weeks after the shooting.
He attended Wednesday’s hearing, but declined comment through an attorney.
Wonder’s self-defense claim rests 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.
Police reported that Pettit left his gun in the car, and it is unclear what type of exchange may have occurred between the men in the post office parking lot.
Among the witness accounts the judge will consider is the prior testimony of Pettit’s daughter, Gabriella, who was 12-years-old at the time and sitting in the car when the shooting occurred.
But she will not be called to testify in person during the Stand Your Ground hearings. Instead, Judge Bober said he will rely on her deposition, which is about 14-pages-long.
Judge Bober also granted Wonder’s request for Wednesdays off during the hearings so Wonder can maintain his regular schedule of dialysis treatment, which typically takes about four hours to complete.
Frank Maister, Wonder’s defense attorney, told Judge Bober that dialysis leaves his client incapacitated for the entire day.