Two seeming strangers went into a North Miami-Dade barbershop. One man, Robinson Fertulien, finished his haircut and walked to the bathroom to urinate. The other, Garry Garcon, was about to get his hair cut.
Suddenly, somewhere outside the barbershop, gunfire erupted on the street. Everyone inside scattered, including Garcon, who took refuge in a back office across from the bathroom.
Then there was a flurry of gunshots inside the barbeshop. When the smoke cleared, Fertulien was found shot to death — hit five times through a door, his legally owned gun in one hand, a piece of tissue paper in the other. Arrested a day after the 2014 shooting, Garcon admitted on video that in the panic of the moment, he fired a volley of bullets through a door into the bathroom, even though he didn’t see anyone threatening him.
But three years later, Garcon tweaked his story. On the witness stand last month, he claimed Fertulien reached around the door and pointed his gun at him. In fear for his life, Garcon claimed, he fired his weapon at Fertulien and fled the scene before police arrived.
This week, a Miami-Dade judge agreed Garcon acted in self-defense, throwing out the murder charge under Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law.
“Gary’s testimony was credible in the eyes of the court because it was the truth,” said defense lawyer Jonathan Jordan, who represented him along with Andrew Rier. “The judge made the correct decision that he was justified in defending himself under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. We are very happy for him and his family.”
The decision Tuesday by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Martin Zilber outraged law enforcement and relatives of Fertulien, a security guard with a valid concealed weapons permit.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law has long been a subject of concern from critics who say it fosters a vigilant, shoot-first culture and allows criminals to unjustly claim self-defense. The 2005 law eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force to counter a threat. The law, which was backed by the politically powerful National Rifle Association, was updated last year when lawmakers put the burden on prosecutors to disprove a defendant’s self-defense claim at a hearing before a jury trial.
Fertulien’s family believes he pulled his gun to defend himself, once shots rang out, and never threatened Garcon.
“It’s an unfair, unjust law,” Fertulien’s brother told the Herald. “It seems this law is letting a lot of criminals get away things they’ve done and they can just use the law to justify their means.”
Said Miami-Dade Chief Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Hoague: “We were very surprised after the facts that came out at the hearing to have the judge rule it was Stand Your Ground. It is very upsetting for us and the next of kin. We hope we will be able to succesfully appeal this decision.”
The law has repeatedly become a social and political flash point. In 2012, police cited the law in initially not arresting a neighborhood watchman in the shooting death of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin, a case that sparked racial tensions and scrutiny on the state’s loose self-defense law. The gunman, George Zimmerman, was later charged but acquitted by a Seminole County jury.
Most recently, a firestorm has erupted over the killing of Markeis McGlockton in Clearwater. Though not armed with a weapon, he was gunned down after pushing a man during a fight that started over a parking space. Pinellas’ sheriff cited the law in not arresting the killer, Michael Drejka.
In Fertulien’s case, he was shot and killed on the night of March 7, 2014, inside the Couleur Barbershop, 10821 NE 13th Ave.
The 24-year-old worked security at a condo building, his family said. Defense lawyers described Garcon as a law-abiding family man who had no criminal record. He told police that he saw the butt of Fertulien’s gun in his waistband as the man got up from the barber chair and wiped his face with his shirt. While he recognized Fertulien from the neighborhood, he did not know him. On the night of the barbershop shooting, the two men never even exchanged words.
Why the gunfire broke out outside the barbershop remains a mystery — Miami-Dade homicide detectives could never determine who did the firing, and whether it was even connected to either of the men inside the barbershop. No bullets were fired at the barbershop.
When the sounds erupted outside, one witness saw Fertulien in the bathroom, the door open, facing the toilet. “The victim was never seen holding or firing his weapon,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Sonali Desai wrote in opposing the dismissal of the case.
Fertulien was found lying on the floor, the bullets fired in downward trajectory into his head. Investigators believe that as he was being fired at, he managed to get off one shot from his gun.
When interviewed the day after the shooting, Garcon admitted he fired at the bathroom door — in the opposite direction from where the gunfire was taking place outside. “I don’t really know what to do so I just, I just shot, but I’m not shooting to kill,” he said.
But at an immunity hearing on July 17, Garcon said he did indeed see Fertulien — while crouching behind a door separating the main salon from the bathroom — aiming a gun toward him. He testified that he thought his friend, who was outside the barbershop, might be the target of the gunfire and that Fertulien was somehow in on the plot.
After hearing from defense lawyers and experts, Circuit Judge Zilber found Garcon’s second version of events credible.
“Under the totality of the circumstances, this court finds the defendant acted as a reasonably prudent person would under like circumstances and that the defendant was acting based on fear for his life,” Zilber wrote.