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Stand Your Ground Returns to Spotlight After Deadly Bar Fight

Stand Your Ground Returns to Spotlight After Deadly Bar Fight

Normally, downtown St. Pete is a pretty tame place.  On any given day or evening, it’s filled with locals and tourists shopping or dining out.  But on the night of February 10, 2016, that serenity would be shattered. Bobby Ryan and Christopher Motlenski were at Angelo’s Grill and Bar on First Avenue N in downtown St. Petersburg. According to police, Motlenski got into a verbal altercation at about 2:30 a.m. with two customers: Ryan, and Ryan’s friend Torsten Simpson.

 The fight continued outside, where Ryan punched the 53-year-old Motlenski in the head, causing him to fall and hit the pavement, where he was knocked unconscious. The fight was recorded on video, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Motlenski was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg; he died March 7 in hospice care. Ryan was later arrested and charged with felony battery. After prosecutors amended the charge to manslaughter, Ryan, 41, sought protection under Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute, arguing that Motlenski was the aggressor and had “bull charged” Simpson into a plate-glass window.  The Florida Stand Your Ground statute stipulates that a person does not have a duty to retreat in the case of a physically threatening confrontation. Deadly force can be used if the person threatened believes his life is in imminent danger.  In 2017, the Florida Legislature strengthened the Stand Your Ground provision putting the burden on prosecutors to prove their claims.

In this instance, a bar fight in the wee hours of the morning, eyewitness testimony is all over the place.  Some witnesses believe Motlenski was the aggressor and Ryan was simply defending himself.  Others say Ryan was drunk and verbally and physically abusive.  One man is dead and the life of the other man hangs in the balance.  This is the life of a criminal defense attorney-sifting through contradictory testimony to get at the truth while at the same time interpreting the law in the light most favorable to the client.  It’s what I’ve been doing for more than two decades now-seeking justice and defending my clients to the best of my ability within the limits of the law.

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