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Aug. 30, 2008 | Road-rage suspect out of jail

The 65-year-old man accused of shooting to death a federal customs agent after a road rage incident was released Friday from Broward County's main jail when he paid $10,000 bail.

James Wonder was indicted by a grand jury Thursday on manslaughter charges rather than murder charges in the shooting death of customs agent Donald Pettit on Aug. 5. If the grand jury had indicted Wonder on a murder charge, he likely would not have been granted bail.

His attorney, Michael Entin, said his client was acting in self-defense.

Wonder could have faced the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder.

Instead, the most time he would serve in prison is 15 years if found guilty of manslaughter.

Authorities say Wonder shot Pettit after they were involved in a road rage incident that escalated. Pettit's 12-year-old daughter was with him when he was shot.

It took the grand jury less than two days to reach a decision after hearing testimony from Pettit's child and law enforcement officers. The judge then granted Wonder's attorneys' motion for a reasonable bond, allowing their client to return to his Miramar home and await trial there.

Wonder has a serious kidney disorder, which may have also contributed to the judge granting a reasonable bail amount.

"Mr. Wonder is a frail man who was confronted and feared for his safety, " Entin said.

"The facts will come out in a public trial or the state will drop the charges. We will not accept any plea deals."

Police classified the incident as road rage after details of the case were released. They say the men got caught up in a heated exchange that led to the shooting.

Wonder and Pettit got into a shouting and finger-pointing match on Pines Boulevard near Dykes Road in Pembroke Pines before Wonder pulled into a post office parking lot. Pettit, who worked as a polygraph expert, pursued him into the parking lot and parked his unmarked car near Wonder's Dodge Charger, leading to the showdown, police say. Pettit left his gun in his car when he got out to confront Wonder.

Wonder went to the post office to mail some letters, said his other attorney, Frank Maister. Pettit's actions will prove that he was the aggressor, he said.

"No one has told me why Mr. Pettit was in the post office. He drove in there to confront Mr. Wonder, " Maister said.

After Wonder shot Pettit, he sped away, arriving at his appointment at a Davie dialysis treatment center. He left the center, went home, hid the gun, changed his hair color and rented a car to hide his involvement in the shooting, police say.

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