TAMPA —William Privett says he shot his ex-girlfriend by accident when he killed her new boyfriend in self-defense four years ago, but a judge ruled Privett could not receive protection under the state’s “stand your ground” law.
Circuit Judge Samantha Ward did rule this week that Privett could be released from jail on $36,000 bail, though, over the objections from the prosecution and Privett’s surviving victim, Shirley Sexton.
Sexton’s mother, JoAnn Talley, said her daughter is terrified Privett will come after her.
“I can’t believe they let this man out with the possibility of finishing the job that he started,” Talley said. She said she was in court Wednesday when Ward gave her ruling and had to be hospitalized later when she had a panic attack while driving home.
Defense lawyer Barry Cohen wrote in a bail motion that Privett “did not then, nor now intend any harm to Ms. Sexton.”
Ward issued a ruling Wednesday denying Privett’s “stand your ground” motion, saying that when Privett shot and killed Eric Brewer and shot Sexton, he was not acting in self-defense.
According to the judge’s ruling, Privett, who had a romantic liaison with Brewer’s wife, reported the night before the shooting that he had been robbed by three masked intruders and believed Brewer and Sexton were two of them.
Privett began calling people looking for someone to take him to Brewer’s house so he could get his property back.
Finally, Eric Bazemore agreed to take Privett to get new cellphones, but on the way there, they spotted Brewer in his truck. Sexton was a passenger in the truck. They followed Brewer to his property, and Privett put his gun into his waistband in the back of his pants, according to Ward’s ruling.
Privett leaned into the car, with both hands and forearms put onto the open windowsill. He testified Sexton looked at him and said an expletive. Privett said he responded he was there to get his property back.
Privett said Brewer got a “wild look in his eye,” and said, “I could have killed you last night, but I still can today.” Privett said Brewer reached down toward the floorboard and shoved the door into Privett, trying to knock him out of the way.
Privett was backing up and pulled the gun out of his belt, Ward wrote, and “started shooting at him, pulling the trigger, until he stopped moving.”
Privett fled in Bazemore’s truck and threw the gun out the window a couple of miles from the shooting, telling Bazemore not to tell anyone where the weapon was. He told Bazemore’s sister, “Your brother will be fine. He just watched me blow Shirley and her boyfriend away.”
In ruling that “stand your ground” did not apply, the judge wrote, “It defies logic to believe that the culmination of evidence that leads the defendant to conclude he has no alternative, based on his overwhelming fear, but to pull out a gun and start firing until the victim stops moving, enables the same defendant to approach that victim on the victim’s own property in the first place. He engages that victim in a set of circumstances that he could not possibly envision a positive outcome. In other words, he is not there to ‘mend fences’ or apologize, but rather to either continue or escalate an already volatile situation.”
In the bail motion, Cohen maintained that the prosecution’s case against Privett was undermined at the hearing regarding “stand your ground” by “substantial contradictions and discrepancies” in the state’s case. Cohen said some prosecution witnesses “actually corroborated Privett’s version of the facts.”
In an email to The Tampa Tribune, Cohen added that his client “was a very successful businessman who owned Privett’s Landscaping in Ruskin, Florida for approximately 30 years. He was indicted for a crime he did not commit, and was completely justified under the law in defending himself and shooting Eric Brewer. Sadly, Shirley Sexton was shot unintentionally while she was sitting next to her boyfriend, Eric Brewer, who tried to get out of the car and kill William Privett.’’
Cohen also wrote that Sexton denied being part of the robbery but said checks that were stolen during the robbery were found in her possession.
Talley said Sexton was shot five times in the head and lost an eye but was released from the hospital about a month after the shooting. Sexton “gets around fairly good” now, Talley said, but is psychologically devastated.
“Of course it’s ruined her mentally, shes got a lot of anger, depression,” Talley said. “She’s scared. She wants to pretend like she’s not afraid. Of course she’s afraid.”
It was unclear late Thursday whether Privett had yet posted bond to get out of jail.
Sexton’s and Previtt’s relationship was stormy, and featured the patterns of escalating violence, court records show. In January 2006, Sexton was cut after a rock was thrown at her face. Privett was charged in the incident, but Sexton did not pursue charges, records show.
Fourteen months later, Privett grabbed Sexton during an argument about dinner, pushed her into a wall, pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot her and her two children, officials said. Prosecutors said charges against Privett were dropped after Sexton refused to cooperate.
Talley said Privett has “held a gun to my grandchildren and my daughter talking about he’s going to kill them all. This is the kind of monster that the judge thinks is OK to walk the streets.”
“Ms. Sexton and her mother are attempting to embarrass Judge Ward by complaining to the Tribune that Judge Ward made a mistake and they are scared to death,” Cohen wrote.
“Judge Ward ordered many restrictions including no contact with Shirley Sexton and her mother, and it is the intention of Bill Privett to abide by Judge Ward’s orders, as he looks forward to the day he will be fully exculpated from these untenable allegations.”