Five years after he shot and killed one man, and left another paralyzed for life, at a Rainbow Family gathering in the Apalachicola National Forest, a Milledgeville, Georgia man has had all charges dropped in conjunction with the March 2015 incident.
On August 11, Circuit Judge Jonathan Sjostrom dismissed the second degree murder charge and the attempted first degree murder charge against Clark Mayers, now 45.
He also returned his $200,000 bond, and terminated Mayers’ pre-trial release conditions, which had included wearing an ankle bracelet while he resided in his Georgia hometown awaiting trial.
Sjostrom’s dismissal was based on three key rulings that preceded him, the first being a decision by former Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, in March 2018, on a Stand Your Ground motion filed by Mayers’ attorney, Richard H. Smith, of Tallahassee.
Because the Florida legislature had modified the law in 2017, two years after the incident occurred, the issue arose as to what standards would apply to the shooting, which resulted in the death of Jacob “Smiley” Cardwell, and the crippling of Wesley “Dice” Jones.
Lewis issued a divided ruling, anticipating that it would ultimately be up to the First District Court of Appeals, and the Florida Supreme Court, to decide whether the standards of the new law would be applied retroactively.
In applying the original “greater weight of the evidence” legal standard that existed at the time of the shooting, Lewis concluded the defense had not met its burden of proof and thus Mayers’ actions were not protected by Stand Your Ground provisions when, as the defendant contended on the witness stand, the two men had come at him with a machete after he asked them not to burn a tire in the forest.
“Admittedly, if someone is coming at you with a machete, it is understandable that you would shoot them to protect yourself from harm,” Lewis wrote. “But a pre-condition to the lawful use of deadly force is that you are lawfully where you have a right to be and are not otherwise engaged in criminal activity.
“Pointing a gun at someone is an aggravated assault. Shooting them is at least aggravated battery,” Lewis wrote. “If you commit two violent felonies and appear capable of committing more violence, you don’t get to kill someone who tries to stop you, and then claim self-defense.”
But in addition, since the Florida legislature a year earlier had changed the law to require prosecutors prove a defendant, by clear and convincing evidence, did not act justifiably in self-defense, Lewis offered an alternate ruling.
“If the amended statute were to apply retroactively, I find that the state has not met its burden for proving by clear and convincing evidence that the (shootings were) not the result of the justifiable use of deadly force by the defendant,” he wrote.
Following an appeal, the three members of the 1st District Court of Appeals – Judges Ross Bilbrey, L. Clayton Roberts and Ross Makar – in fall 2018 all agreed the changes to the Stand Your Ground law enacted by the Florida legislature in 2017 should be applied retroactively to the 2015 shooting.
“Ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court will have to determine which view is correct,” he wrote.
The appeals court ruling quashed Lewis’ decision to deny Mayers’ Stand Your Ground motion, and remanded back to Circuit Judge Charles Dobson to discharge Mayers.
The Florida Supreme Court later ruled, in a separate case, that Mayers’ Stand Your Ground hearing fell within the window in which the judges determined the revised law should be applied retroactively.
“The Supreme Court remanded it to the district court of appeals with instructions.” Smith said. “And after period of time passed they issued a mandate that the trial court would discharge Mr. Mayers.
“We followed this the whole way through all the courts, and did all the right things,” he said. “Fortunately we got the right result.”
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Five years after Rainbow shootings, Mayers walks