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The push for Michael Giles’ freedom begins

Stephon Johnson | 1/9/2014, 1:21 p.m.
A military man on active duty hangs out with friends at a bar in Tallahassee, Fla. A fight breaks out ...
Michael Giles

A military man on active duty hangs out with friends at a bar in Tallahassee, Fla. A fight breaks out at the bar between fraternity brothers from nearby Florida A&M University—people who aren’t connected to the military man and his friends. The man walks to his car to retrieve his gun that he’s licensed to carry just in case it gets too crazy. He walks back into the bar looking for his friends and is allegedly punched in the face by one of the brawl’s participants for no reason.

The military man, fearing for his life, fires the weapon at the man’s legs and wounds him while two others are hurt by bullet fragments in the process. The military man is immediately arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder. But the military man invokes his state’s “Stand Your Ground” law in the hopes that the law will see his side.

They don’t.

Michael Giles, of the United States Air Force, was sentenced to 25 years for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in 2010. The mandatory minimum for that charge is 20 years.

Under Florida Statute 775.087 (aka “10-20-Life”), a minimum sentence of 10 years is conferred for a felony conviction if someone just brandishes a firearm. Another 10 years is added to the sentence if the gun is fired, even if no one is hit by a bullet. The shooter receives 25 years to life if someone was wounded. It’s the same charge that was used to send Marissa Alexander to prison when she tried to invoke “Stand Your Ground.” Alexander and Giles are both Black.

Judge James C. Hankinson, who presided over the trial, said that the laws are overly harsh, but he still has to follow them. Giles’ defense, however, wasn’t too happy.

“He doesn’t have to think he’s going to get killed, even though people looking in from the outside thought someone could get killed,” said Giles’ defense attorney Don Pumphrey during his closing statement. “If the defendant was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, where he had a right to stand, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”

Giles was sentenced despite his attacker, Courtney Thrower, admitting his anger over someone interrupting his dance and his desire to hit the next person he saw, which happened to be Giles. He was sentenced despite witnesses testifying that Thrower had instigated several other fights that night and was acting violently. The attacker’s own friends admitted that they feared he could’ve killed someone that night. According to reports, 30 to 40 people were involved in the brawl, and none of them were Giles or his friends.

In the second year of Giles’ sentence, a movement has risen to have him freed. His new defense attorney filed a motion for post-conviction relief, claiming that Giles received “ineffective assistance of counsel.” Meanwhile, his mother, Phyllis Giles, a military woman herself, started a Change.org petition to try and persuade Florida Gov. Rick Scott to provide her son executive clemency.

In the petition, Phyllis Giles writes, “My husband and I are proud military veterans, with a combined 40 years of service, and we were proud when our son also chose to serve his country. Michael completed a tour in Iraq and Kuwait and was looking forward to furthering his career in the military, but now all of that has changed.

“We believe that we have raised a good man,” she continued. “He had no prior criminal offenses, no history of violence, and was an outstanding father and Airman. So we do not understand how the state of Florida could sentence him to a mandatory 25 years for defending himself.”