Suspect in Jake Couture death seeks dismissal under Stand Your Ground law

Jake Couture was fired by Laurel Oak Elementary 4th grade students for his team's 'Gorilla Toby' product during Sports and Entertainment Marketing class at Gulf Coast High School, Thursday, March 27, 2008. Michelle Le/Staff

Jake Couture was fired by Laurel Oak Elementary 4th grade students for his team's "Gorilla Toby" product during Sports and Entertainment Marketing class at Gulf Coast High School, Thursday, March 27, 2008. Michelle Le/Staff

James Matthew Menard. Collier County Sheriff's Office

James Matthew Menard. Collier County Sheriff's Office

— The man who fatally shot Gulf Coast High student Jake Couture will seek to bar his prosecution under a state law permitting the use of lethal force in self defense.

An attorney for James Menard, 24, will argue the suspect feared for his life when he shot and killed Couture, 17, and injured two other teenagers following a scuffle at Brittany Bay Apartments in January.

Menard faces a maximum life sentence in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

His attorney, Tim Moffitt, filed the motion on Friday, seeking dismissal of the case under Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law. The statute allows a person to act with deadly force if in “reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm.”

Witness statements suggest Menard may have been spooked by a toy gun, a replica Uzi carried by one of the teenagers in the opposing group. The defendant had a concealed weapons permit, allowing him to carry the .40-caliber handgun he used.

“As the Defendant (in) this matter was attacked and was not engaged in an unlawful activity, he is presumed to have a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm...,” the motion states.

Any hearings on the request would be held before Menard’s trial.

State prosecutor Mara Marzano responded to the motion by adding another charge against Menard, armed trespassing, a felony punishable by a maximum five years in prison.

“I wasn’t going to charge it, your honor,” Marzano told Collier Circuit Judge Franklin Baker. “However, when I saw the Stand Your Ground motion, I thought it was appropriate.”

A key element of a Stand Your Ground claim is that the shooter had a lawful right to be at the location of the incident. Brittany Bay is a gated community in which neither Menard nor his friends lived; on the night of the shooting, they entered through an open gate.

The group was seething over an alleged robbery that had occurred at the complex earlier that day, Jan. 1. Menard’s friends Phillip Markle and Jacob Markham, both students at Gulf Coast High School, said they were mugged in the Brittany Bay parking lot by four men, one of them being Couture.

Returning later that evening, they were met in the parking lot by Couture and three friends, Brandon Morales, Brandon Standifer and Michael Fleitas.

Several witnesses told detectives that Morales held the Uzi replica or even brandished it, claims denied by Morales.

When Standifer shoved Menard twice, the suspect responded by firing three rounds. He struck Couture, Fleitas and Standifer.

Menard is also charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder for the shootings. If convicted of either charge, he faces a maximum 30 years in prison.

The state has offered no plea deals, Marzano told Baker. She said Couture’s family has been uncomfortable with any possible offers.

Menard’s trial was scheduled for December but postponed due to conflicts in Baker’s schedule. The judge scheduled an initial hearing on Moffitt’s motion for Wednesday.

Moffitt has three other motions requests, each seeking to shape testimony in the trial.

One asks Baker to bar witness accounts of drug dealing surrounding the incident, allegations of which have been made by some witnesses. Xanax pills were also found inside Couture’s car.

Another motion requests a prohibition against testimony of the alleged robbery, and a third seeks to prevent witness testimony of Menard’s right to be at Brittany Bay.

Menard remains in the Naples Jail Center.

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