A Miami woman was justified in fatally shooting an unarmed man during a brawl sparked by on-stage rap taunts at a Kendall strip club, a judge ruled on Friday.
The ruling means Kimberly Matthews, 32, is free and clear of a second-degree murder charge for the April 2014 killing of Terrance Henderson outside The Office strip club.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodolfo Ruiz ruled that Matthews, cornered against a wall and believing one of several men attacking her brother was reaching for a gun, had no choice.
“Her repeated efforts to put an end to the brawl were to no avail, leading Matthews to believe that discharging her firearm was the only way to prevent death or great bodily harm,” Ruiz wrote in a 15-page order released Friday.
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Matthew is at least the sixth person in Miami-Dade to be cleared by a judge under Florida’s controversial 2005 Stand Your Ground law.
The statute eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat in the face of a mortal threat before using deadly force. More vexing for prosecutors, the law also gave judges greater leeway to throw out criminal charges — before a jury trial — if they deem someone acted in self-defense.
“We always felt that the law was on our side and that her arrest was a rush to judgment by the police,” said defense attorney Michael Grieco. “We in no way celebrate the loss of life, but I am just happy that I was able save my client’s.”
Critics have long assailed the law as promoting a shoot-first vigilante mentality that allows criminals a pass on justice.
The law came under national scrutiny in the racially charged case of George Zimmerman, a Sanford man who claimed self-defense in killing unarmed Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin in February 2012. The neighborhood watchman claimed he shot only after Trayvon attacked him first, repeatedly bashing his head on the ground.
Police initially cited the law in not charging Zimmerman. Prosecutors eventually charged him with second-degree murder. Jurors acquitted Zimmerman at trial.
The state attorney’s office now must decide whether it will appeal the ruling.
Last year, the Third District Court of Appeal granted immunity to Gabriel Mobley, an Opa-locka man who claimed self-defense after fatally shooting two unarmed attackers outside a Northwest Miami-Dade Chili’s restaurant. The court overturned a Miami-Dade judge’s refusal to throw out the case.
In Matthews’ case, she was with her siblings at the strip club for a performance by her brother, Colin Matthews. Colin Matthews apparently taunted a rival in the crowd with his lyrics. The man, Kenneth Thompson, rushed the stage and a melee erupted. After security broke up the fight and kicked everyone out, Matthews returned to her car and retrieved her pistol, then joined her brother in another car.
At that moment, Thompson, Henderson and several others “rapidly” approached them and another fight ensued.
Matthews claimed she was pushed while trying to break up the fight, pulling her gun to try and stop the brawl. She claimed that one man, Chester Williams, was making suspicious movements toward his pocket.
“I seen one of the guys go into — dig for a weapon ... I thought they were going to kill us,” Matthews testified at a stand-your-ground hearing in June.
Williams was not armed. As her brother “traded blows” with Thompson and Henderson, she “leaned and lunged over her brother’s shoulder and fired a single shot,” the judge wrote. “In doing so, she aimed at no one in particular, and hoped to end the altercation by provoking [the attackers] to leave.”
But the bullet hit Henderson, mortally wounding the man. Judge Ruiz said the shot, while hitting someone who was not armed, was nevertheless justified under law.
“Her involvement cannot be characterized as irrational or unreasonable,” Ruiz wrote. “She felt obligated to defend her brother.”