In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Vigilante justice? It’s OK now

If justice were based on a homicide victim’s virtue, it would be inarguable — Bryan Antonio DeJesus deserved no justice.

But there was a time, before Florida legalized vigilante retribution, when even a low-down thief like DeJesus, unarmed and fleeing the scene, could not be ambushed, gunned down, killed like a dog. (A poor analogy, really. Shooting a stray dog in Florida would entail considerably more risk of prosecution.)

In 2013, nothing will come of this killing. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office — reluctantly, I suspect — decided Wednesday that the DeJesus shooting fell under the elastic parameters of Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute. No charges will be filed. No jury will consider the circumstances around the DeJesus shooting.

If the decision is an outrage, it’s not an outrage against the shooting of an innocent. No one could confuse the DeJesus incident with the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford last year, though that case too may turn on the Stand Your Ground statute. Civic activists will not be spending much time defending the memory of Bryan Antonio DeJesus.

Young DeJesus seemed to have a penchant for stealing cars. In 2010, he was busted twice in Pembroke Park on grand theft auto charges. The second arrest, on June 30, 2010, occurred while he was on probation for his first, on Jan. 15. That earned him a six-month stretch in a state lock-up.

Among the tattoos decorating the short, slight DeJesus — flames, tear drops, skull, gorilla, grim reaper, pyramid, “RIP,” the name “Kearia” on his back, “Keisha” on his neck — the words “no remorse” had been inked across his chest. Certainly DeJesus, who would have been 23 on June 8, did not seem to harbor much remorse for his transgressions. He did, however, alter his modus operandi.

On Jan. 14, he switched to house burglary. It was a fatal mistake.

After breaking into a townhouse in northeast Miami-Dade, DeJesus was surprised by Jordan Beswick, who lived there with his mother. Beswick was armed. Beswick opened fire. He killed DeJesus.

Police charged Beswick with second-degree murder, but the State Attorney’s office decided that he could escape prosecution under yet another peculiar application of the Stand Your Ground Act, the 2005 expansion of the state’s traditional self-defense law dreamed up by the NRA’s gun fantasists.

Beswick, 19, had surprised the burglar in his mother’s northeast Miami-Dade townhouse. He grabbed his gun and fired off seven shots, chasing the unarmed intruder into a back bedroom. At that point, no one, before or after the passage of Stand Your Ground, would have questioned his actions.

Then Beswick took it further, challenging the old notion of self-defense long embedded in common law. After calling 911, he ran around to the rear of the townhouse, waited there in the dark for about three minutes. When DeJesus tried to escape through a bedroom window, Beswick fired off another volley — police say at least eight shots. DeJesus fell back into the bedroom, dead from the gunshots.

Yet his lawyer could argue, invoking Stand Your Ground, that his client, outside the home, in the dark, waiting in ambush, “had the absolute right to defend himself inside his own home.” Before 2005, such an inside-out defense would have been dismissed as absurd. No longer.

Of course, this was just some a petty criminal, shot and killed in the act. An ex-con on probation working his way to his next conviction. Not a very sympathetic victim. But there was a time when one measure of a civil society had to do with the value it assigned to the life of even a common thief. When civil society restricted the use of deadly force to extreme, fearful, unavoidable circumstances.

Times have clearly changed.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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