(Adds new quote from Agnew, paragraph 6)
By Tom Brown
MIAMI, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Florida lawmakers will hold hearings this fall on the state's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law, which has become a lightning rod for criticism following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
The announcement on Friday by Will Weatherford, the speaker of Florida's House of Representatives, marked the biggest concession yet by the state's Republican leaders to protesters' demands for a top-to-bottom review of the law, which allows people in fear of serious injury to use deadly force to defend themselves rather than retreat.
Since Zimmerman's acquittal on July 13, Martin's grieving parents, backed by African-American civic leaders, celebrities, students and political figures, including President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, have all said the Stand Your Ground law needs to be re-examined.
Weatherford, in an opinion column published in the Tampa Tribune, said he had asked Representative Matt Gaetz, a fellow Republican who chairs the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, to lead the hearings. Weatherford did not set a date for the hearings or say how long they would last.
"Across Florida, representatives are receiving calls, letters, visits and emails from constituents with diverse opinions on 'Stand Your Ground,'" Weatherford said. "Passions are high, but every person has the right to express their views on this matter of great importance."
"It's a critical step," said Phillip Agnew, who heads a group of young demonstrators calling themselves the Dream Defenders who have staged a nearly month-long sit-in outside Governor Rick Scott's office in a bid to change the law. "We're excited about having an open debate," he told Reuters.
Advocates of the law, the first of its kind in the country and now copied in more than 20 other states, say violent crime has fallen since it was enacted.
But critics see the self-defense law as emblematic of racial bias and unequal justice in America, since some studies have shown that defense claims made under the law are far more likely to be successful when the victim is black.
Two of the six jurors in the Zimmerman case have said the Stand Your Ground law left them with no option but to acquit him.
"Our evaluation of its (the law's) effectiveness should be guided by objective information, not by political expediency," Weatherford wrote.
"Does the law keep the innocent safer? Is it being applied fairly? Are there ways we can make this law clearer and more understandable?" he asked.
Most U.S. voters support the "Stand Your Ground" laws, although the question of whether to retreat or use deadly force in self defense divides Americans along gender, racial and political lines, a national Quinnipiac University poll found on Friday.
The poll found that a strong majority of white voters and men support the laws, while black voters generally oppose them and women are almost evenly divided. (Reporting by Tom Brown; additional reporting by Bill Cotterell editing by Jackie Frank)
Man Kills Lover Having Sex With Wife, 2012
In Brandon, 70-year-old Ralph Wald walked in on former neighbor Walter Conley having sex with Wald's wife. After fatally shooting Conley, Wald claimed that although Conley had lived nearby, he did not recognize him and thought a stranger was raping his wife. Wald was <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/man-70-acquitted-killing-wife-lover-mid-tryst-article-1.1360052" target="_blank">acquitted after a two-hour deliberation</a>. His defense team invoked Stand Your Ground, according to the Tampa Bay Times, and noted that "<a href="http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/criminal/brandon-defendant-accused-of-murdering-wifes-lover-to-testify/2123822" target="_blank">Wald had 'no duty to retreat' when facing perceived danger within his own home</a>."
Neighbor Shoots Man In Stomach Over Trash Bags, 2006
Kenneth Allen was upset that Clearwater neighbor Jason Rosenbloom had placed eight rather than the allowed six trash bags on their curb. The two men got into a verbal dispute. As Rosenbloom approached, Allen shot him once in the stomach and once in the chest, claiming Rosenbloom had tried to enter his home. Allen was not charged, police believing his self-defense claims. "<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/07/us/07shoot.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2" target="_blank">Had it been a year and a half ago, he could have been arrested for attempted murder</a>,” Rosenbloom said of how the then-new Stand Your Ground law affected the case.
Rival Drug Dealer Killed, 2009
Jackson Fleurimon shot and killed Lucus Termitus, claiming that Termitus had shown up at his Orlando apartment brandishing a gun. Fleurimon's girlfriend told police that Fleurimon shot Termitus because he told him not to "sell dope on my side of the complex." Fleurimon was <a href="http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/criminal/many-killers-who-go-free-with-florida-stand-your-ground-law-have-history/1241378" target="_blank">granted immunity under Stand Your Ground</a>.
Man Retreating From Fight Shot In Back Of Head, 2007
Michael Palmer and Timothy McTigue got into a fight in Rivera Beach, during which McTigue claimed Palmer tried to drown him. McTigue then <a href="http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/local-victims-families-insist-floridas-stand-you-1/nLhwr/" target="_blank">fatally shot Palmer in the back of the head</a> while Palmer was climbing out of the water. McTigue was acquitted.
Newspaper Delivery Man Kills Stranger, 2008
Tony Hayward was delivering newspapers in West Palm Beach when, he said, Jyron Miles approached him. Hayward <a href="http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/criminal/some-law-abiding-citizens-claiming-self-defense-go-to-prison-without/1254961" target="_blank">claimed he thought Miles was reaching for a gun so he shot him.</a> Hayward was acquitted.
Man Claims He Had to Shoot Because Of Arthritis, 2008
In Hudson, Anthony Boglino, 64, was in an argument with Haigh Frank Kopain, 36, when he said he felt threatened. He claimed his arthritis prevented him from otherwise defending himself, so he shot his pistol, wounding Kopain. Boglino <a href="http://acquitter.com/news/florida/pasco-man-acquitted-stand-your-ground/" target="_blank">was acquitted under the Stand Your Ground law</a>.
Man Kills Robber Stealing Car Radios, Then Sells Radios, 2012
Greyston Garcia saw Pedro Roteta stealing a stereo from his truck in Miami. He pursued Roteta, who swung a bag of car stereos at Garcia, according to surveillance video. Garcia<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/stand-ground-man-shot-dead_n_1630974.html" target="_blank"> then fatally stabbed Roteta, went home, hid the knife, and sold two of the stolen stereos</a>. A Miami-Dade judge cited the Stand Your Ground law in dismissing the case against Garcia. Months later, Garcia was killed by a stray bullet in a random Liberty City shootout.
Neighbor Kills Man In Front Of His Children In Dog Dispute, 2009
A neighborhood dispute over dogs in Homosassa turned deadly when <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57408241-504083/is-this-the-age-of-justifiable-homicide/" target="_blank">Oscar Delbono shot Shane Huse</a> as Huse's two young children watched from his truck. Witnesses say that Huse had turned to walk away when Delbono fire his gun. Delbono was not charged with a crime. "<a href="http://www.tampabay.com/stand-your-ground-law/cases/case_36" target="_blank">It is a tragic, unfortunate set of circumstances that occurred, but given the state of the law there's no criminal prosecution</a>," said Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino, according to the Tampa Bay Times, citing Citrus Daily.
Man Kills Door-to-Door Adventist, 2009
Tampa neighbors said that Carlos Ibanez, a Seventh Day Adventist, had been acting out, pounding on car windows and apartment doors when <a href="http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/family-says-slain-man-was-deeply-religious-spreading-gods-word/1018757" target="_blank">Marcos A. Trujillo shot and killed him</a>. Trujillo was not charged.
Teen Kills Deaf Wave Runner Robber, 2011
A Miami mother told her 14-year-old son, Jack Davis, to "get the gun" when they spotted a man trying to steal their waverunner from the dock, according to 911 calls. Davis <a href="http://www.npr.org/2012/03/23/149204405/stand-your-ground-law-questioned-after-teens-death" target="_blank">shot and killed Reynaldo Munoz, who the family claimed had threatened them</a>. A former teacher of Munoz said that was impossible because Monuz was deaf and could not speak clearly. Davis was not charged.
Marijuana Deal Turns Deadly, 2009
<a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/03/26/143105/commentary-the-troubling-history.html#.UeV0tmQ6WEM" target="_blank">Anthony Gonzalez Jr. fatally shot Sujaye Henry</a> in a Miami marijuana deal dispute that led to a car chase and shootout. Gonzalez pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in prison. <a href="http://www.tampabay.com/stand-your-ground-law/cases/case_51" target="_blank">"The limitations imposed on us by the 'stand your ground' law made it impossible for any prosecutor to pursue murder charges,"</a> said a spokesman for the Miami-Dade prosecutor's office.
Gang Shootout Kills Teen, 2008
A gang shootout in Tallahassee left 15-year-old Michael Jackson dead. Two rival gang members <a href="http://www.wctv.tv/home/headlines/92183289.html" target="_blank">were granted immunity under Stand Your Ground</a>. "<a href="http://www.wctv.tv/home/headlines/92183289.html" target="_blank">A spokeswoman for Florida's Attorney General says in this case, the court made a decision about whether the defendants had a right to defend themselves regardless of whether they were gang members</a>," according to WCTV.
Man Fires At Utility Workers Collecting Unpaid Bills, 2009
Miami's <a href="http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2010-11-17/news/fl-stand-ground-ruling-20101117_1_fpl-employees-miami-dade-judge-miami-dade-man" target="_blank">Ernesto Che Vino fired at two Florida Power & Light workers who had entered his yard to cut power due to unpaid bills</a>. A judge tossed out two counts of armed assault and one count of improper exhibition of a firearm, saying that under Stand Your Ground, Vino had a reasonable fear for his life.
Deadly Road Rage, 2012
Seth Browning, a 23-year-old security guard in Palm Harbor, was concerned about Brandon Baker's driving and followed him to get his tag number. Baker pulled over and confronted Browning, who police say sprayed Baker with pepper spray. Browning said Baker then reached in and punched him, prompting <a href="http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/road-rage-blamed-in-fatal-shooting-on-palm-harbor-street/1218558" target="_blank">Browning to pull out his company-issued gun and fatally shoot Baker</a>. Browning was not charged. "<a href="http://palmharbor.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/prosecutor-stand-your-ground-law-applies-to-deadly-sh6b1815ce65" target="_blank">The bottom line is, this was justifiable use of deadly force</a>," Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery told Palm Harbor Patch.
Bar Fight Shooting Spree Leaves One Injured, 2010
Tyrone Anthony Jackson was in an altercation with Etti Miezan at a Tampa birthday party. Jackson <a href="http://www.tampabay.com/stand-your-ground-law/fatal-cases" target="_blank">reportedly went to his car to get his gun and came back to start randomly shooting into the street</a>. Miezan was injured while trying to evade his shots. Jackson was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.