Marion Gavins Jr., the 18-year-old Palm Coast resident who shot and killed Flagler Palm Coast High School senior Curtis Gray on April 13, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Monday. The plea suggests that his lawyers, who have few options based on evidence made public so far, may be preparing a stand-you-ground defense.
Gavins recorded a brief and often incoherent selfie-video as his mother was driving him to the sheriff’s Palm Coast precinct to turn himself in on April 14. Gavins in the video appears to confess to shooting Gray, but also blames Gray for “reaching first.” Gavins was in the backseat of an SUV when Gray was approaching it and Gavins pulled out a 9mm handgun, firing at Gray once. Gavins would later tell sheriff’s deputies that he thought Gray was reaching for a gun as he approached the car. No gun was recovered at the scene near Gray. (See the Gavins video here.)
The two men were each with their set of friends late the night of April 13 at the Blaze Smoke Shop in the small strip mall next to a Circle K and gas station, at the intersection of Palm Coast Parkway and Belle Terre Parkway. Gray became aware that Gavins was in the shop after briefly stepping in there, then exiting. Gray spoke to his own friends, then walked toward the SUV Gavins had returned to after going to the smoke shop, according to sheriff’s reports.
The driver of the SUV Gavins was riding in was already backing out of the parking spot at the strip mall and was preparing to drive on when Gavins told him to stop the car as Gray was approaching it. In a stand your ground defense, the defendant has no obligation to retreat, whether at home, at the office or in a vehicle, but has to reasonably believe that imminent danger–bodily harm or death–exists.
The context of the two men’s interactions before the shooting, that night or in days prior, remains murky.
Gavins was a few weeks short of his 18th birthday when a grand jury indicted him on a first-degree murder charge.
In late May, Gavins’s defense attorney filed a motion to have Gavins mentally evaluated, and to allow for up to $5,000 to be spent for those services.
Gavins is represented by a public defender. He’s been assigned five different attorneys, all but the last of whom had a conflict of interest and so could not represent him. He is now represented by Andux Gonzalo, who was appointed from the Seventh Circuit Indigent Services Attorney Registry. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Dunton, who has won a string of high-profile murder and other convictions in recent years, including that of Bruce Haughton last month, James Colley last November, and Clarence Murphy and Dorothy Singer in 2018, and Anna Pehota in 2016.
Gavins did not address the court at the brief hearing Monday, other than to enter his not-guilty plea through his attorney.
In a stand your ground case, the defense may choose to have a hearing before trial to argue that the charge should be dismissed. But at such hearings the defendant may be compelled to testify, giving the prosecution the opportunity to cross-examine him on the record.
Gavins’s next pre-trial hearing has not yet been scheduled.