VIERA, Fla. (FOX 35 Orlando) - A former deputy with the Brevard County Sheriff's Office is facing trial for murder, but first a judge will decide if the “stand your ground” defense applies.
The shooting was in June of 2016. Nearly three years later, two families are waiting nervously to learn how this will move through court.
There are differing accounts of how close then-deputy Yousef Hafza was, when he opened fire on 25-year-old Clarence Howard. Investigators believe it was a distance of 50 feet. There are also starkly different versions of the circumstances leading up to the shooting.
During a hearing on Friday, Jose Montanez was tearing up and sniffling as he described the death of the man he called brother.
“I got up, I went around the car, I looked at Clarence. I was looking for bullet holes. I found it,” Montanez said.
Before the emotional part of the testimony, the state asked Montanez to explain how things escalated on Father’s Day of 2016. Montanez said Hafza, off-duty at the time, nearly hit their car. Montanez said they followed Hafza, wanting to have a conversation about the close call.
Hafza told investigators it was teeing up to be a confrontation — that the men pursuing him were driving aggressively, followed by a verbal exchange.
The judge has to rule if what happened next constitutes Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law.
“When he [Hafza] came out, he came out with a gun drawn," Montanez testified. "He pointed it at me and Clarence he shot two times. I turned, he continued firing.”
When Hafza’s defense attorney did a cross examination, he honed in on discrepancies in Montanez’s story. However, Hafza’s account also has discrepancies, attorneys argue.
There are some scheduling issues with the judge and attorneys, so it’s not clear when the defense will put on its case in this stand your ground hearing, and it’s not clear if Hafza will take the stand when that happens.
Stay with the News Station for comprehensive coverage through the entire process.