77-year-old Jacksonville Beach man pleads guilty to manslaughter in shooting death

April 24, 2013

Minutes before a hearing on whether the state's Stand Your Ground law would clear an elderly Jacksonville Beach man in the shooting death of man visiting his girlfriend, the 77-year-old opted to plead guilty to a manslaughter charge. Vannie Collier pleaded guilty this month to manslaughter, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The plea agreement calls for Collier to be sentenced to between five and 15 years in state prison and, as a result of the plea, the state dropped the second-degree murder charge for which Collier could have received life in prison.

Collier and the victim had a long-standing argument and police said Collier has displayed his gun and fired it in the air before because he did not like people walking in front of his home, the newspaper reported. Collier was set to have a Stand Your Ground hearing, claiming that he fired because he felt he was being threatened and was in fear for his life from the 38-year-old victim. Collier's children in the courtroom audience urged him not to take the plea deal, and, when he asked for more time to think about it, prosecutors told him he had to take it or leave it, the newspaper reported. The notion that everyone has a right to a Stand Your Ground hearing may technically be true, but this case shows the leverage game prosecutors use and the true cost of a hearing. If Collier went through with the hearing, the plea deal would come off the table and his only options would be to plead guilty to second-degree murder or go to trial on that charge, where he faced a minimum of 25 years in prison and a potential life sentence. At 77, the 25-year minimum would likely equate to a life sentence because there is no gain time on a minimum mandatory sentence and Collier would be more than 100 years old at his scheduled release.

This move by prosecutors effectively limits Collier's potential defense and typically ends up guaranteeing the state some sort of plea in the case, albeit one at a far reduced charge. Now, the state doesn't have to negotiate in the first place, so there is nothing illegal about the move, but it is a common tactic of local prosecutors when they want to force the issue. If they had nothing to be afraid of on the Stand Your Ground motion, why wouldn't they keep the offer open? Likely because they know the client will take the deal, as Collier did, and not risk what will amount to a life sentence. The plea limits Collier's exposure and we'll know next month how much time he will serve in this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney has represented hundreds of clients and understands the ins and out of plea negotiations to be able to lay out all of the options so you or your loved one can make the best possible decision.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Jacksonville Gun Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.