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He was stabbed in the eyes and choked with broken wood. Self-defense, the killer says

A fight between a couple over cannibalism ended in deadly violence: stabbed eyes, a bludgeoned face, and a throat stuffed with broken wood.

Now, defense attorneys want a Florida Keys judge to toss out the first-degree murder case against Justin Tyler Calhoun, arguing she is immune to prosecution under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

The fatal fight took place Aug. 14, 2017, at a Key West home on 12th Street in the New Town section of the island.

And it started with Calhoun demanding to know if her boyfriend was a cannibal, police said.

Calhoun, 26, admitted stabbing Mark Brann, 67, in the eyes with pens, then bludgeoning him in the face with a dresser drawer. Calhoun finally inserted a piece of broken wood into his mouth, stomping it down his throat.

Prosecutors want the death penalty if Calhoun is convicted as charged.

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But the violence came out because Calhoun was in a life-or-death situation, public defenders said Tuesday at Monroe County Courthouse.

“I don’t believe we have to wait until he is shot until he has the right to defend himself,” said defense attorney Jason Smith in reference to Calhoun, who identifies as a woman.

The day after the fight in his bedroom, Brann, who owned a scooter rental company, died from his injuries, according to an autopsy report.

The police body camera footage captured the sounds of him gasping for breath and gurgling.

Meanwhile, Calhoun, a dancer, came out of the fight with only a small cut on a foot, police said.

Calhoun could have left during the fight, said Assistant State Attorney Colleen Dunne.

Calhoun “had no impediment to leaving, and yet he stayed” she said of Calhoun. Brann “was asking for help. He was incapacitated.”

But during her police interview, Calhoun said she went “beyond” self-defense. Smith said police put words in her mouth.

Calhoun identifies as a woman but her lawyers and Dunne referred to her with male pronouns and as “Mr. Calhoun” during Tuesday’s hearing.

Public Defender Kevin McCarthy said the male pronouns were used for identification purposes.

attack
Police surround a Key West home after a brutal attack on a man Monday morning. Gwen Filosa Keynoter

Brann and Calhoun had been in a romantic relationship for about four years when the killing happened.

The fight started with an argument over Calhoun accusing Brann of being a cannibal, said Key West Sgt. Jeffrey Dean.

Brann became enraged and grabbed a gun from his nightstand, Calhoun told police during a six-hour interview, and Calhoun struggled to disarm Brann.

The gun was fired into the ceiling. Calhoun managed to take it from Brann. Calhoun said she racked the gun and fired, but the gun jammed.

“Yes, there was a gunshot but that does not justify the acts Justin Calhoun perpetrated on Mr. Brann,” Dunne said. “There is no evidence Mr. Brann was engaged in any other struggle other than to potentially get away from Justin Calhoun.”

Calhoun is the sole witness but police said all of the evidence supports her story.

Chief Judge Mark Jones said he will review the evidence — depositions, a videotaped interview between a detective and Calhoun, and photos of the crime scene and Dean’s testimony Tuesday — and issue a written ruling at a later date.

Jones did not give a specific date for when he will rule.

If the case proceeds, trial is set to start Feb. 24 and is expected to last three weeks.

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Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.
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