Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Marianna, Florida

From the Tallahassee Democrat of May 3, 2005
Jury acquits man in fatal shooting

A man who claimed self-defense has been acquitted of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of his lover's husband who had forced his way into a mobile home where he found the pair partly undressed.

Robert Jernigan, 70, admitted killing Curtis Ryals, 52, but jurors agreed he was justified in shooting the intruder who also tried to strangle him June 21 in nearby Cypress. They cleared him after four hours of deliberation Saturday.

"If this is not self-defense, then what in the world is self-defense?" defense lawyer Walter Smith said in his closing argument.

The case was unaffected by a new law Gov. Jeb Bush signed last week to let people use deadly force to defend themselves on the streets, but the Smith's arguments echoed those made by supporters of the legislation. Existing law allows a person to use deadly force to protect themselves in their homes.

"Here we have the state prosecuting a victim for killing a criminal," Smith said.

Assistant State Attorney Mark Sims contended the shooting was neither necessary nor justified because Ryals, drunk after consuming a half bottle of whiskey, had stopped his attack before he was killed.

"It was over," Sims said. "The man was leaving."

Sims said Jernigan's house might be his castle, but "inside this man's castle was Curtis Ryals' woman."

Ryals' wife, Barbara, worked for Jernigan at his lawn ornament and statue business.

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