Man accused of stabbing St. Pete teen won’t face charges due to ‘stand your ground’ law

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Tampa Bay mother says the man responsible for killing her teenager is getting away scot-free.

Justin Schmitt was stabbed once in the chest. He had no weapon and he was in his own house so why are prosecutors declining to file charges against his attacker?

On Feb. 25, 2020, Schmitt, 18, was with a group of friends at his home in the 4800 block of Haines Road North in St. Petersburg.

They were making prank calls. There was also drinking. Then, around 2:30 a.m., there was an argument and Schmitt was stabbed in the chest.

The forensics team would later be found on his porch as St. Petersburg police drove to his mom’s house.

Allison Garris fell apart.

“His birthday was the next day, he was about to be 19,” said Garris. “It was the worst day of my life.”

Months later, Pinellas County prosecutors haven’t charged Schmitt’s attacker.

According to State Attorney Bruce Bartlett’s Office, this is a stand your ground case. That means, the teen’s attacker was acting in self-defense and it was reasonable for him to fear for his own life.

On that night, prosecutors say, Schmitt was combative. He pushed one friend then swung at and lunged towards another who warned he had a knife, said the prosecutor assigned to the case.

Attorney Amber Patwell represents the teen’s family.

“Even if there was a punch or a push that happened, neither of those things would cause a reasonable person to think that they were at risk of great bodily harm,” said Patwell. “When you’re talking about stand your ground and being authorized to kill somebody… the circumstances in which you’re permitted to do that are very narrow.”

8 On Your Side spoke at length with the prosecutor assigned to the case, Assistant State Attorney Christie Ellis.

Ellis is sympathetic to Schmitt’s family. She says she did a thorough investigation. Prosecutors interviewed witnesses multiple times, under oath.

In the end, she believes she can’t prove by clear and convincing evidence, the standard of proof required, that this isn’t a stand your ground case.

“Stand your ground is like a license to murder people and the onus is put on the state attorney’s office to prove that it wasn’t,” Garris said.

Garris still believes prosecutors should at least present the case to a judge.

“Kids do get into fights all the time,” she said. “It’s not a license to kill.”

8 On Your Side asked the prosecutor if her decision was final. Ellis says it is unless and until, there’s new evidence.

Right now, 8 On Your Side is looking into the criminal history of all parties involved.

“My kid loved to plant flowers, so that’s what I do, that’s what I’m left with,” Garris said. “I wanted to see him get married… but you stole that from us, you took that away, and that’s not fair.”

8 On Your Side is not identifying the attacker since he’s not being charged at this time.

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