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A Palm Beach County jury has convicted Jonathan Schuler of manslaughter in a case where the victim was shot 13 times inside a West Boynton home.
Friday’s outcome ended the first murder trial in South Florida in 18 months, a delay caused by coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
While Schuler was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, he remains charged with two more first-degree murder counts. A death penalty trial in one of those homicides is scheduled to be held in April for the 37-year-old former construction worker.
Jurors were not told about the other cases as they heard Schuler’s claim of self-defense in the Feb. 3, 2017, killing of Junior Petit-Bien, 34. It happened in Petit-Bien’s father’s house, where both Schuler and the victim had been living at the time.
Prosecutors said Schuler had been renting a room there for six months, and Petit-Bien had been sleeping on a couch for a few days before the deadly encounter. But Public Defender Carey Haughwout argued Schuler thought Petit-Bien was a threatening stranger.
Schuler says he got nervous when a strange car parked on the driveway and the man who stepped out “just the body language and demeanor, it was a red flag.” Schuler then grabbed his 9 mm handgun.
Schuler told detectives that Junior moved aggressively and reached for his backpack, seemingly going for a weapon.
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But prosecutors Marci Rex and Reid Scott blasted Schuler’s self-defense claim, arguing he had encountered Schuler before.
“Junior was found lying on the floor by the couch … at no time did Junior take out a knife or weapon,” Rex wrote in a pleading.
In a pretrial ruling, Circuit Judge Daliah Weiss rejected Schuler’s contention that the murder charge in Petit-Bien’s death should be tossed under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
A hearing is scheduled for Friday concerning the scheduling of Schuler’s sentencing. Manslaughter counts are typically punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Schuler is also charged in the Jan. 8, 2017 shooting death of Scott Osterman, 49, in Lake Worth, and the March 8, 2017, beating death of Arcenio Alvarez, 32, in Deerfield Beach.
Authorities say Schuler and Alvarez briefly worked together at a construction site before Schuler used a crowbar to bash the victim’s head. Schuler claims he was defending himself from an attack.