Miami man freed in controversial self-defense ruling killed by stray bullet in Liberty City

Greyston Garcia was killed in his truck three months after a judge granted him immunity under Florida’s controversial self-defense law.

06/27/2012 5:00 AM

06/27/2012 8:14 PM

After he beat a murder charge under Florida’s controversial self-defense law, Miami’s Greyston Garcia took an anonymous job as a cashier in a cramped all-night convenience store in Liberty City.

Tuesday night, he asked to go home early.

Sure, his boss said, but first drive to the gas station to get change for some $20 bills. Garcia obliged, and as he drove back, an errant bullet from a nearby firefight struck him as he pulled up to the store.

The truck crashed. Paramedics rushed him to Jackson Memorial Hospital. Doctors pronounced him dead.

The fatal shooting, which also claimed the life of a 16-year-old boy, was a stunning demise for a man whose legal saga had drawn intense interest nationwide.

“I don’t know what to say,” said a stunned veteran Miami homicide Sgt. Ervens Ford, who investigated the original case. “You can’t make this stuff up. Only in Miami.”

A Miami-Dade judge in March granted Garcia immunity under the Stand-Your-Ground law just as a furor was spreading over the killing of Trayvon Martin, a Miami Gardens teen killed in Sanford by a self-styled neighborhood watchman who claimed self-defense.

The 2005 law eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force to meet a threat. Critics argue that the law fosters a shoot-first, Wild-West attitude that gives criminals a pass on justice.

Garcia, armed with a knife, had chased down a thief who had broken into this truck and stolen his radio in Little Havana in January 2011. With one fatal thrust to the chest, Garcia felled Pedro Roteta.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beth Bloom ruled Garcia acted in self-defense because the thief swung a bag filled with heavy car radios, and a medical examiner testified that “a 4-6 pound bag of metal being swung at one’s head would lead to serious bodily injury or death,” her order said.

Garcia’s death Tuesday night shocked those involved in his earlier case.

“Greyston was a hard working and caring person, who like his father before him, loved and lived for his family above all else,” said his defense attorney, Eduardo Pereira. “Greyston’s wife, Dianelys, and his children, the youngest having enjoyed his first and last birthday with his father, will miss a young man who having survived a brush with death, embraced a second chance at life.”

After his release from jail, Garcia took a job at Steve’s convenience store, 6900 NW 15th Ave., a tiny market that sells sodas, beer and chips. Garcia, who worked the noon-to-10 p.m. shift, landed the job because he knew the business partner of store owner Kenny Abdul.

Garcia was a dependable worker who frequently talked about his kids.

“I liked him. He was honest and didn’t bother nobody,” Abdul said.

Abdul had recently gone on vacation, so Garcia had worked extra hours. So on Tuesday night, Garcia asked if he could leave early.

Garcia — driving the same black truck that Roteta broke into — drove away to get the change for his boss just past 9 p.m., a routine request. The truck was returning, north on 15th Avenue. when the gunfire erupted.

“I heard about 10 shots,” Abdul recalled.

A round entered the passenger’s side window. Garcia’s truck veered off the road, between two light poles and a fence, and crashed into a parked black van just across the street from the market.

Miami police was likely an innocent victim struck down when two rival gangs began shooting at each other. The shooting also claimed the life of 16-year-old Ron Dwayne Jones, whose body was found nearby.

So far, no arrests have been made. Abdul said Jones was a customer, but that Garcia did not interact with him much.

Garcia, 26, had originally been charged with second-degree murder, and prosecutors planned to appeal Bloom’s ruling.

Police painted Garcia as a vigilante who chased Roteta for more than a block before stabbing him during the confrontation on Jan. 25, 2011.

Roteta’s cohort told police that Roteta also had an open pocket knife in his hand during the chase. However, police found a folded-up knife in the dead man’s pocket.

The confrontation was captured on video surveillance, but the judge said the images were too grainy to clearly tell what happened.

When he was interviewed by Miami homicide detectives, Garcia initially denied involvement. But after he was shown the surveillance video, Garcia admitted he chased down Roteta to get his radio back and kept the other radios after stabbing him.

At first, Garcia claimed Roteta had a screwdriver in his hand. Then, he admitted he did not see a weapon but feared for his life when the bag of radios was swung at him, according to Bloom’s order.

Bloom, in her order, said that under the law, Garcia “was well within his rights to pursue the victim and demand the return of his property . . . the defendant had no duty to retreat and could lawfully pursue a fleeing felon who has stolen his property.”

The judge acknowledged in her order that Garcia did not call police or 911, but went home and fell asleep. He later sold the extra car radios and hid the knife. Those actions, however, did not sway the judge in ruling in favor of his self-defense claim.

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