Roderick Scott, an African American man, shot and killed Christopher Cervini, a 17-year-old white youth, in 2009.
Scott faced a charge of first-degree manslaughter, and claimed he shot the teen in self defense.
Scott was subsequently acquitted.
All this happened in New York State, which, even back then, had much tougher gun and self defense laws than the state of Florida has.
What are the legal similarities and differences between this case and the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case?
Three Teens Breaking into Cars
During the early morning hours of April 4, 2009, 42-year-old Roderick Scott was asleep on the couch of his Greece, New York home, just outside of Rochester. He was awakened by some noise outside.
Scott looked out the window and saw three teens attempting to break into his car. He grabbed his gun, for which he had a legal permit, put it in his waistband and told his girlfriend to call 911 before going outside.
When Scott went out, he confronted the youths, who were going through a neighbor’s car. According to Scott, he told them to stop and wait for the police. The incident ended after Scott fired two shots at Christopher Cervini, killing him.
What Happened? Accounts Differ
According to 15-year-old James Cervini, one of the three, and Christopher’s cousin, Scott shot Christopher after the teen yelled, “Please don’t shoot me, I’m just a kid.” Scott, who testified in his own defense, said he only fired after Christopher came running at him in a threatening manner.
Scott’s attorney, James Parrinello, argued it was likely Christopher went at Scott to give James a chance to get away. James was already bound by two probation orders and the consequences of being charged with breaking into cars would have been more serious for him.
Scott Originally Charged with Murder
Unlike George Zimmerman, Scott was immediately arrested after the shooting and charged with murder. A grand jury later reduced the charge to first-degree manslaughter. The jury deliberated for about 19 hours before rendering a verdict of not guilty on December 18, 2009.
Manslaughter and Self Defense in New York State
Under section 125.20 of the New York Penal Law, first-degree manslaughter is defined as when a person intends to cause serious physical injury to another person and causes the death of that person or a third party. First-degree manslaughter also applies to cases that would otherwise constitute murder but the defendant, at the time the act was committed, suffered from extreme emotional disturbance.
It is clear that at the time Scott fired two shots into Cervini, he intended to cause serious physical injury to Cervini. He would have had to have been convicted of manslaughter unless the killing was justified.
Under New York law, deadly physical force is defined as the use of force that can reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical injury. Under section 35.15 of the New York Penal Law, deadly physical force is justified if the person who uses it has a reasonable belief that the other person is using or is about to use deadly physical force against him or her.
In New York, the use of deadly physical force is not justified if the defendant is not in his or her dwelling and they have an opportunity to safely retreat from the situation. The New York Penal Law is similar to the law of Florida in terms of the onus of proof. A defendant need not prove a killing is justified and the jury must acquit unless they are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was not justified.