Judge denies “Stand Your Ground’ defense in brother killing

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A Circuit Court judge has denied immunity to a Vero Beach man accused of shooting his brother dead after a night of heavy drinking and brawling, despite a plea for relief under Florida’s revised ‘Stand Your Ground’ statue.

The Hon. Cynthia Cox issued her ruling June 28, nearly a week after hearing expert testimony about the 2014 slaying. It was the second time Cox ruled that defendant Mark Deffendall’s actions were not excused by the defense.

The 43-year-old, who was beaten bloody by his brother in their father’s airplane hangar just before the shooting, is being held at the Indian River County jail without bond. He has been charged with first-degree murder with a firearm. His case has yet to go to trial.

Deffendall claims he does not remember much of what happened the night his brother was killed, Cox surmised in court records. Yet, expert testimony, blood spatter and ballistics show he fired a gun eight times at his brother, Eric Deffendall, starting at the top of the stairs in his father’s home and continuing to shoot downstairs in the family’s living room.

Eric was unarmed and hit seven times, she wrote. He retreated. He was bleeding and seriously wounded, and his brother followed him.  “(Mark) cannot recall Eric’s conduct, unlawful use of force, or any threats after Eric retreated,” the judge opined. “There were two rifles and a handgun on the first floor. Eric could have accessed these firearms when he retreated downstairs, but the firearms were undisturbed, encased, and secure.”

If the defendant cannot recollect whether his brother used or threatened to use deadly force, there can be no showing such force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm, Cox reasoned. “The Defendant’s renewed motion for immunity and dismissal is denied.”

The homicide was revisited June 22 after Deffendall and his attorney sought immunity under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ statute for the second time. Deffendall previously was denied the defense, but Cox granted him a new hearing this year after Florida lawmakers revised the statue, shifting the burden of proof to the State.

Under the revised law, a person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. There is no obligation to retreat and a person has the right to “stand his or her ground.”

Previously, defendants had to prove it was reasonable for them to be afraid for their lives, but under the revised statute, prosecutors must prove that the defendant was not acting out of reasonable fear.

An audio recording of the barrage of gunshots captured on a neighbor’s security camera was played at the June hearing.   Eric Deffendall was hit at least once before an 11-second pause in the gunfire, Indian River County Sheriff’s Office Detective Rob Newman testified. Then, five more shots followed in rapid cadence, at least one hitting the victim at point-blank range.

Mark pursued his brother down the stairway and began shooting again, Newman said. One bullet was a “near contact” wound to Eric Deffendall’s head. That shot severed the victim’s brainstem and caused his body to fall forward. “(Eric Deffendall) is, in fact, on the ground when he is shot the (seventh) time.”

The victim was later found by his father, face down and unresponsive, according to an arrest affidavit filed with the court. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

His father, prompted by police, contacted his other son to ask what happened. “Eric would not give it up, he wouldn’t stop,” Mark said, according to court records. The defendant did not answer when his father asked if he was the one who shot his brother.

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