In what was another test of the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law, Miami-Dade authorities announced Wednesday they won’t charge a teen who waited outside an apartment building and fatally shot an unarmed burglar as he tried to escape.
Jordan Beswick, 19, had faced second-degree murder charges for the death of Bryan Antonio DeJesus, 22, in January. But prosecutors concluded they could not prove his guilt under Florida’s self-defense law.
The development came one day after prosecutors, in an unrelated case, announced they would not charge a Miami Shores teen who shot an unarmed thief who stole a WaveRunner from his family’s backyard.
In deciding against criminal charges in each of the high-profile cases, Miami-Dade prosecutors cited Florida’s self-defense law, which critics say encourages an atmosphere of shoot-first vigilante justice.
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Before 2005, a Florida citizen had a “duty to retreat” before using lethal force to counter a threat.
The law is under national scrutiny in Sanford, where neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman is on trial, accused of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, of Miami Gardens. Zimmerman, 29, is claiming self-defense in fatally shooting the unarmed teen during a scuffle inside a gated Sanford community just north of Orlando.
Lawmakers in 2005 also beefed up the law’s existing “Castle Doctrine” to give a resident a “presumption” that any intruder, armed or not, poses a threat of “death or great bodily harm.”
In Beswick’s case, prosecutors concluded that even though the teen left the apartment, it could not be disproved that he feared for his life when he opened fire.
“Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law made it impossible for us to prosecute Jordan Beswick,” said Ed Griffith, a State Attorney’s Office spokesman. “The very nature of the break-in gave his deadly actions legal justification. Like it or not, that’s the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law.”
Beswick’s attorney hailed the decision, saying the teen and his family “are eager to move forward with their lives.”
“There is ‘no win’ in this matter. A life was lost; this is not something we celebrate,” said lawyer Sasha Berdeguer.
“Though the criminal matter has come to a conclusion today ... it does not by any means erase the trauma Mr. Beswick suffered being labeled a killer and a murderer. He is neither. Jordan is a young man who made a difficult, spilt second decision in terrifying circumstances. He protected himself and his home.”
Miami-Dade police in January arrested Beswick, who lives with his mother in a first-floor condominium on the 800 block of Northeast 209th Terrace, near the California Club.
That night, he was home alone watching television about 11 p.m. when he heard a knock at the door. He did not answer, then heard someone trying to enter through the condo’s sliding glass door.
Police said Beswick grabbed a pistol and lay down on the tile floor near the living room.
Minutes later, DeJesus, 22, was inside the condo, according to the police report.
The intruder emerged from inside a rear bedroom. Beswick saw a shadow and fired seven times, missing DeJesus, who ran back into the bedroom.
Beswick then ran out the front door. Beswick ran around the apartment building, set up outside the bedroom window and waited about five minutes.
From just a few yards away, he saw “[DeJesus’s] hands part the window blinds” in an attempt to climb out, according to a Miami-Dade police report. Beswick fired the last fatal volley; DeJesus’ body, mortally wounded, crumpled back into the bedroom.
At a January bond hearing, prosecutor Dawn Kulick told a judge that Beswick was not in danger after leaving the building.
“He no longer needed to use force to defend himself,” she told the judge.
Detectives were also puzzled by Beswick’s behavior. He dialed three outside numbers before calling 911 after the first volley of shots, hid the handgun after the second and gave police shifting versions of what happened.
As for DeJesus, records show he had been arrested at least eight times since age 15, mostly for minor drug, trespassing and vehicle theft charges.
Many prosecutors have criticized the “Stand Your Ground” law for hampered prosecutions. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle served on a governor’s task force aimed at reviewing the law.
It has played out in several high-profile murder cases.
Prosecutors were forced to drop a 2008 case involving a North Miami-Dade man who shot and killed his ex-wife’s new lover as the man sat in his car. The gunman fired 15 shots, claiming the new lover was threatening him and appeared to reaching for a weapon.
Detectives did find a handgun in the car, not within immediate reach, but hidden underneath a pile of laundry in the back seat.
The law also gives judges more leeway to dismiss cases based on self-defense — in Miami-Dade, judges have granted immunity to three defendants charged with murder.
The most controversial: the case of Greyston Garcia, who, armed with a knife, chased down and fatally stabbed a thief who had broken into his truck and stolen his radio in Little Havana.
A judge in March 2012 ruled that Garcia acted in self defense because the thief wielded a heavy bag of car radios that could have been used to cause “serious bodily injury or death.”