Screenshot of WTXL - Tallahassee, FL YouTube video
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A Florida teen will now be tried as an adult in connection to a double homicide after prosecutors apparently rejected his claims of self-defense under the state's "stand your ground" law.
On June 22, 16-year-old Kylen Welch and some his associates seemed to make a series of poor choices. Several of them gathered at a basketball court at the Palmer Munroe Teen Center in Tallahassee, Florida, where two males — 21-year-old Trenton Tompkins and 18-year-old Jermaine Johnson — began arguing over a gun that Johnson had allegedly stolen from Tompkins several weeks prior. While some in their group encouraged the two to use their fists to settle their differences, the men decided instead to "shoot it out."
They were about to engage in the gun duel right there, but an off-duty cop reportedly spotted them, prompting the group to disburse and then reconvene at a nearby McDonald's, where some in their party worked. Once there, Johnson and Welch stood outside Tompkins' Chevy Malibu while Tompkins remained sitting behind the wheel. Reports suggest that Johnson entered and exited Tompkins' vehicle several times while the men continued to argue.
At some point around 5 p.m. that day, while Johnson was still inside the car, Tompkins allegedly fired a shot at Johnson, who then attempted to escape. Tompkins then allegedly fired a second time, striking Johnson again. Johnson died soon afterward, having suffered shots to his neck and head.
Welch later told police that after firing the rounds at Johnson, Tompkins then turned his weapon on Welch. Welch claimed he then fired at Tompkins in self-defense. Tompkins was later found slumped over in his vehicle, dead after suffering a shot to his left shoulder, the left side of his chest, and his right arm.
At first, police seemed to accept Welch's claim of self-defense. The affidavit stated that "Trenton Tompkins frightened [Welch] to the point he feared he would lose his own life," and an updated statement from Tallahassee police still says, "Preliminary findings indicate this could be a Stand Your Ground case, however the case remains open and active pending further investigation."
However, Florida State Attorney Jack Campbell seems to have since rejected the "stand your ground" defense from Welch. On Tuesday, Campbell stated that the "evidence supported that it was a criminal shooting."
The evidence Campbell referenced appears to be new statements from a witness. The witness was among those who had gathered at the teen center and works at the McDonald's where the shooting took place, though the witness was not working at the time. The witness told police that while several of them were driving from the basketball court to the McDonald's, Johnson verbalized his plans to kill Tompkins. Johnson explained to those in the car his intention to rob Tompkins of his gun and money once they arrived at the fast-food restaurant. Johnson then turned to Welch and asked him if he were "ready," a question which the witness interpreted to mean as asking Welch whether his firearm was loaded and whether he was ready to engage in a shootout with Tompkins. The witness also alleged that Welch attempted to take Tompkins' gun from him during the fatal encounter.
Surveillance footage seemed to show Welch firing at Tompkins before fleeing the scene, and Welch reportedly confirmed to police his actions captured on camera. Welch also supposedly told police that after the shooting, he drove away, threw his gun in a pond, told Johnson's family what had happened, and then called his mother. The gun has not been recovered.
Welch — "adjudicated" as a "delinquent" juvenile last year — was initially arrested in the shooting and charged with possession of a firearm by a delinquent and tampering with physical evidence. He then bonded out of custody on those charges. Since then, Welch has turned 17 and has been rearrested and charged as an adult with one count of second-degree murder, one count of felony murder-second degree with a firearm, possession of a firearm by a delinquent, and tampering with physical evidence. He has been denied bail and remains in custody at the Leon County jail.
Campbell stated that, no matter what, Welch cannot face the death penalty in this case because he is a juvenile. Welch's public defender did not respond to a request for comment from Law&Crime.
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Sr. Editor, News
Cortney Weil is a senior editor for Blaze News.