Fla. man arrested for chasing and shooting burglar dead claims self-defense

A Florida man arrested for chasing down – and fatally shooting - a suspected burglar in Orlando is claiming self-defense in what legal experts say is likely to become the latest Florida “stand your ground” case.

The Orlando Sentinel reports Claudius Smith, 32, is being held without bail on charges of second-degree murder with a firearm in connection with bloody events that occurred earlier this week at the Fountain at MetroWest apartments.

The case, local criminal lawyer Bill Sheaffer told the Sentinel, is "fairly similar," to that of George Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, nearly two years ago. Zimmerman was acquitted at trial, although he did not seek immunity under Florida’s “stand your ground” protection, which allows a Sunshine State citizen to respond with deadly force if they feel they are in imminent danger.

"It's available, it's worked, and lawyers and defendants are always testing the elasticity of 'stand your ground' and of self-defense," Sheaffer reportedly said.

After police arrived at the Fountain at MetroWest complex shortly before noon on Thursday, they reportedly found Ricardo Sanes, 21, dead in a swatch of grass, along with six spent .45-caliber shell casings.

And the Sentinel writes a preliminary examination revealing gunshot wounds Sanes sustained to his upper back and the back of his neck suggests he had been shot while attempting to flee from Smith.

Police reportedly caught up with Smith later on Thursday, at which point he said he was in his Carter Street home – about a block from the apartments – when his girlfriend saw Sanes “walking around his yard,” on a monitor transmitting a feed from an outdoor surveillance camera.

The Sentinel cites Orlando police in writing Smith told authorities of "a recent problem with burglaries at his house ... and (that) he was certain the unknown male was responsible.”

Armed with the .45-caliber handgun for which he reportedly owns a conceal and carry permit and is wont to keep handy while sitting at home, Smith then jumped the fence into the Fountain at MetroWest apartments  – as his girlfriend had watched Sanes do moments before – in pursuit of the suspected burglar.

Once there, Smith reportedly told police he saw Sanes, “looking into windows of apartments as he walked past them,” before he confronted him at gunpoint and grabbed him by the hood of his sweatshirt when the man tried to walk away.

Smith reportedly told police Sanes then, "punched him in the mouth and grabbed for his gun," before he fired. According to the Sentinel, Smith also told authorities he believed Sanes was armed "because his pants were falling down" and he had his hands in his hoodie pockets. And, indeed, the Sentinel cites a police affidavit in writing a .40 caliber handgun was later recovered by authorities from Sanes’ body.

The case also somewhat parallels another that culminated earlier this month, when a blind former U.S. Marine with a history of violence was cleared on murder charges by a Florida judge who granted him immunity from prosecution under the state's “stand your ground” law. 

That ruling came a day after John Wayne Rogers, 40, told a jury he shot James DeWitt in March 2012 at point-blank range with an assault rifle after his friend first balked at a request he leave his Seminole County home following a night of drinking – and then rushed him after he asked him to depart a second time.

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