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Former Zimmerman judge denies ‘stand your ground’ in woman’s murder trial

By Jeff Weiner and Rene Stutzman, Orlando Sentinel –

ORLANDO, Fla. — An Oviedo, Fla., woman who says she shot her estranged husband in self-defense while he was raping her was denied immunity from prosecution under Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law on Tuesday.

The judge who denied immunity, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr., until recently oversaw the high-profile case against George Zimmerman. Zimmerman faces a second-degree murder charge in the Feb. 26 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

He is expected to ask for protection under the same law, which grants immunity from prosecution if a defendant can show the use of deadly force was in response to a reasonable fear of serious injury or death.

In a ruling Tuesday, Lester denied “stand your ground” protection to Anita Smithey, 44, who also faces a second-degree murder charge in the May 4, 2010, killing of Robert Cline III in her Oviedo home.

Smithey says she was home alone when Cline unlocked her door and entered about midnight. They drank tequila and had consensual sex, she says, but rather than leave afterward as she expected, he put a knife to her throat and began raping her.

At a “stand your ground” hearing, prosecutors argued that Smithey’s statements were contradictory. There was no rape, the state said, just a husband and wife with a history of rough sex and a wife who grew angry when Cline wouldn’t go home.

In his order Tuesday, Lester wrote that Smithey “failed to demonstrate that she justifiably acted in self-defense.”

Lester noted Smithey and Cline “were very friendly during their interaction, going so far as to have consensual sex” and that the evidence made it appear Smithey “shot (Cline) out of anger and then staged the scene … as if she had been raped.”

Smithey, the judge wrote, admitted to police that she stabbed herself in the side after shooting Cline, and also “agreed with the statement that she shot (Cline) out of anger, not out of fear of great bodily injury or death or to prevent him from raping her.”

Lester was asked to recuse himself from the Zimmerman case after he wrote in an order that Zimmerman had displayed a “blatant disregard for the judicial system.” Lester declined to remove himself from the case voluntarily, but stepped aside after an appeal court sided with Zimmerman.

The judge’s comments came after prosecutors alleged Zimmerman and his wife had conspired to hide money from the court, claiming to be broke at Zimmerman’s first bond hearing when in fact they had more than $130,000.

Circuit Judge Debra Nelson has since taken over the case. The unarmed Miami Gardens teen’s shooting sparked international outrage after Zimmerman, who claims self-defense, wasn’t initially arrested.

Nelson also is presiding over the case against Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie, who was charged with perjury after the alleged monetary deception was revealed.

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