A Monroe County judge who works in the Upper Keys refused Tuesday to hold a Duval Street shooting trial in Key West, deciding the trial will happen 93.5 miles from where the crime took place.
Judge Luis Garcia denied a motion from the State Attorney’s Office to move the trial to Key West, forcing the state to have to plan to pay for travel and hotel stays for more than 30 witnesses, including 21 Key West police officers, some of whom would only have to testify for 30 minutes to an hour.
Judge Wayne Miller had the case originally but he retired in August and Garcia was assigned to the case in which Derek David is accused of firing a handgun into a crowded Duval Street, wounding three passersby.
State Attorney Dennis Ward’s office didn’t ask Garcia to step away from the case, merely to preside over it at the Monroe County Courthouse in Key West.
The trial is expected to last six or seven days of testimony but with the shift to the Upper Keys, it will last as long as ten days.
Key West Police Capt. J.R. Torres told prosecutors that holding the trial in the Upper Keys will place a logistical and economic burden on the department since it would have to cover shifts missed by the testifying officers.
Two of the victims live in Key West. Three others live in New Orleans, Port Orange, FL, and Daytona Beach.
“The remaining witnesses will have to fly into Miami and thereafter have to travel an hour and a half to two hours to the Plantation Key courthouse,” according to a motion filed by Assistant State Attorney Colleen Dunne, who argued before Garcia in Plantation Key on Tuesday.
Garcia didn’t give a reason for the denial but simply said the trial will be held on Plantation Key, according to witnesses at the hearing.
David’s case had been hung up in appeals as his defense attorneys argued he deserves the right to tap Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which state lawmakers made even easier on suspects last year by shifting the burden to prosecutors to prove defendants can’t use it in court.
The Third District Court recently sided with Miller’s original ruling denying the Stand Your Ground defense.
At the time of the shooting, David and his wife were living on Sugarloaf Key and had gone to Key West for a night of entertainment.
David, who says he has amnesia and a head injury from the events of March 21, 2016, in which he fired a handgun into bystanders off Duval Street, says he had a right to protect his petite wife from strangers she clashed with after a night of drinking.
“The only danger of injury [the wife] faced that evening was her close proximity to [two bystanders] at the time Defendant discharged his weapon,” Miller wrote in a stinging 18-page ruling in February.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen