This week marks five years since Miami Detective James Walker was shot and killed — and now the accused gunman is claiming self-defense.
Walker was shot in the head by gunman Andrew James Rolle, who ran out from a North Miami Beach alleyway.
In a strange and bloody coincidence, Rolle tried to open the door to Walker’s police vehicle, a white Ford Taurus – a near-identical unmarked car that Rolle believed belonged to a pal who had just dropped him off.
The men exchanged gunfire, with Rolle shooting Walker in the head.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“Once [Walker] pointed the gun at the accused, he had the right to defend himself with equal force,” according to a Rolle’s motion asking a judge for immunity from prosecution.
But Rolle’s request glosses over the prosecution’s theory: that Rolle, wielding an assault-style rifle, had just shot up a suspected rival and was jumping into what he was believed was the get-away vehicle.
“During the commission of these crimes [was when] detective Walker was killed,” according to an arrest warrant.
Rolle filed his recent request for immunity under Florida’s controversial 2005 Stand Your Ground law, which eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force to counter a lethal threat. The law does not allow immunity for people engaged in “unlawful activity.”
As vexing for prosecutors, the law also allowed judges greater leeway in throwing out a murder charge instead of allow the case to be heard by a jury.
Critics argue that the law fosters a shoot-first, Wild-West attitude that gives criminals a pass on justice.
The state’s law came under scrutiny last year when police initially declined to arrest a self-styled neighborhood watchman in Sanford who claimed self-defense in killing 16-year-old Trayvon Martin, of Miami Gardens. In response, Gov. Rick Scott appointed a task force — that includes Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle — to examine the law.
In Miami-Dade, judges have granted immunity to at least three men accused of separate murders.
Rolle, 26, charged with murder and attempted murder, is slated to go to trial in March. Lawyers are discussing whether the self-defense motion may be heard at the same time.
Rolle also is charged with two separate robberies, which prosecutors intend to bring to trial before the murder case.
Walker, who was not in uniform at the time of his death, was a soft-spoken domestic crimes detective first hired by Miami police in 2000. On the night of Jan. 8, 2008, he had left work and was on his way to his estranged wife’s North Miami Beach apartment.
Unbeknownst to Walker, Rolle too had gone to the area around South Glades Drive and Northeast 17th Avenue, a hotbed for the street gang known as “One Way.”
According to prosecutors, a man named Ricardo Ajuste had earlier stolen a Tech-9 pistol from Rolle in a gun deal gone wrong.
That night, Rolle — looking for revenge and for the stolen gun — and others drove in a white Ford Taurus to the neighborhood, looking for Ajuste.
Driver Jonathan Blanchard drove Rolle to the alley behind 1720 South Glades Dr.
“Rolle told him that they were going to ‘handle’ someone who had stolen the Tech-9 pistol,” according to an arrest warrant.
Rolle popped out and disappeared around the corner. When gunshots rang out, Blanchard drove off, police said.
North Miami Beach police say Rolle unleashed a hail of bullets on Wesner Senobe, sitting inside his Impala outside an apartment building, whom he mistakenly believed was the gun thief. Rolle chased him down the block but the wounded man slipped away.
Rolle returned to the alleyway and saw a white Taurus - Walker’s unmarked police vehicle.
“He assumed it was Jonathan Blanchard’s vehicle, so he attempted to get into the passenger door of that car,” according to a warrant.
The door was locked. Authorities believe Walker was parking his car when he heard the gunfire.
Walker rolled down the window and pointed his service pistol at Rolle. The defendant later told a friend that he “intentionally opened fire” on Walker until “the magazine was empty.”
As he ran away, Rolle tossed the AK-47 underneath a nearby car. Investigators later recovered the weapon.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law states that immunity does not apply to someone “engaged in an unlawful activity” — and prosecutors say Rolle had no right to defend himself because of his attack on Senobe.
Rolle’s attorney, David Peckins, says Rolle committed no crimes. In his request for immunity, he said Rolle no idea that Walker was a cop, and that the man pointed a gun at his client “in a place he had a right to be.”
Walker “was not in uniform, nor did he have anything visible that identified him as a police officer,” Peckins wrote in his motion, saying after the shooting, Rolle “ran from the area unaware that the person in the car was a police officer.”