Crime

Latest Stand Your Ground defense: in a bathroom at Denny’s

Brooke Tuchinsky and Sean Barnes
Brooke Tuchinsky and Sean Barnes Handout photo

In South Florida, the state’s controversial self-defense law known as “Stand Your Ground” has been invoked for acts of violence in backyards, parking lots, sidewalks, a college campus, even a boat.

Now one North Miami man claims he stood his ground and shot an unarmed ex-lover — inside the women’s bathroom at Denny’s.

Sean Barnes will ask a judge on Wednesday to dismiss an attempted murder charge, claiming his ex-girlfriend, Brooke Tuchinksy, appeared to “grab a shiny object” from her purse after he followed her into the restroom at the North Miami diner in August 2013.

Barnes shot her once in the face. Tuchinsky had no weapon. Detectives found her purse closed.

“He never intended to use the weapon for any purpose other than self-defense,” lawyers Jonathan Jordan and Andrew Rier wrote in their request to the court.

Tuchinksy survived. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Charles Johnson will hear evidence in the case at 1:30 p.m. Prosecutors have charged him with attempted murder.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, enacted in 2005, has been criticized for fostering trigger-happy vigilante justice, and giving killers a way to beat murder charges. The law eliminated a citizen's duty to retreat before resorting to using deadly force. It also gave judges — before the case is ever heard by a jury — greater leeway to grant “immunity” to someone they find acted in self-defense.

In Miami, judges have cleared at least six people of using deadly force in homicide cases. That includes one man who chased, then fatally stabbed a car-radio thief. In the most recent case, a judge freed a Miami woman who shot and killed an unarmed man at a strip-club parking lot.

In Barnes’ case, the focus of the defense’s attack will be on Tuchinksy.

She had a long history of domestic strife, including two ex-boyfriends filing for restraining orders against her, court records show.

One accused her of setting his patio furniture on fire. Another accused her of stalking him, vandalizing his car and hacking into his Facebook account.

Barnes, a bartender, met Tuchinsky met at Billly’s Pub, a well-known watering hole next to the North Miami police station. After their relationship fizzled, each filed a restraining order against the other.

She claimed Barnes threatened her with a gun. In her petition, Tuchinsky said Barnes told her: “I bought a new gun and would love to use it on you and make it look like an accident or self-defense.”

Barnes, in his petition, claimed he had to change his phone number more than 10 times because of her harassing phones calls and text messages. He believed she was behind his mother’s slashed tires and hacks into his social media accounts.

On the day of the attempted killing, Barnes claimed that Tuchinsky sent a slew of text messages, using racial slurs against him, while insisting they meet to answer questions for “real closure.”

They met at the Denny’s on Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 121st Street. They got into a heated argument inside the restaurant, having to be separated by employees. She left while Barnes remained eating at the table.

But Tuchinsky walked back in, “made another verbal threat, this time a lethal one in context and entered the female restroom,” according to the defense’s motion. Tuchinsky, however, told police that she walked back in only to use the restroom and “did not say anything to him” as she passed.

His defense does not outline exactly what the threat was — or why Barnes, if he felt threatened, did not leave the restaurant or stay at the table. Instead, he followed her into the restroom “ to see what Tuchinsky was preparing to do.”

“At this moment, he saw Tuchinsky reach for her purse and grab a shiny object which he perceived to be a deadly weapon.”

Barnes, who had a concealed weapons permit, took out his pistol and fired one round at her face, breaking her jaw.

“Barnes pushed open the door with a crazy look on her face and he shot her,” according to a police report. “Tuchinsky advised that she was not armed with any weapons and did not know why Barnes shot her in the face.”

Barnes was arrested near his home.

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