VERO BEACH — A Gifford man charged four years ago in the fatal shooting of 42-year-old David Lee Riggins has been found not guilty by a jury, according to court records.
After a four-day trial, Sherman Shelly, 51, of the 4200 block of 26th Avenue, was acquitted Thursday of first-degree murder with a firearm, which prosecutors filed against him after he turned himself in to the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and said deputies shot Riggins in self-defense on August 15, 2018.
Shelly, who remained jailed while awaiting trial, was released from custody Aug. 25 after his acquittal, Indian River County Jail records show.
Riggins, also of Gifford, was found about 9:30 a.m. with gunshot wounds to his arm, chest and back. He was lying in tall grass about 15 feet north of the road in a vacant lot between homes in the 2800 block of 43rd Street, according to an arrest affidavit.
He was pronounced dead at Indian River Medical Center.
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Assistant District Attorney Dorothy Naumann, who represented Shelly along with defense attorney Christopher Walsh, said at the trial, jurors were told that Shelly was forced to use deadly force in self-defense during an encounter with Riggins, who was armed with a special .38 revolver.
“It was justifiable deadly force under the circumstances,” he said. “There was no other way to avoid it.”
In finding Shelly not guilty, the jury made the right call, Naumann said.
“I think it was the truth,” he said. “I think they found the truth and made the right decision.”
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Riggins, he said, had the gun on him and had “threatened to kill his landlady and her whole family because they just kicked him out that morning.”
Naumann told jurors that Riggins “was the aggressor” and that morning had said he was going to kill Shelly.
“Sherman says Riggins pulled the gun on him and shot him twice. And that’s when Sherman Shelley grabbed the gun, turned it around and shot him three times, killing him,” Naumann said. “The law was just favorable to him under those circumstances, that he is allowed to use deadly force.”
Arrest reports show witnesses said a fight between the men started a few blocks from the shooting scene at Mosley Groceries, on the corner of 25th Avenue and 43rd Street.
Riggins was angry after being served with eviction papers that morning. A man said Riggins had pointed a gun at him earlier that morning after he refused to give Riggins a cigarette.
When Riggins went into the store, Shelly asked, “What’s that you’re looking at (expletive) boy?” according to an arrest affidavit.
“Within two or three minutes, it all broke out,” a witness told investigators.
Both men picked up sticks, but nothing physical happened and they walked away in different directions, the affidavit said.
Shelly said she went to the nearby Our Father’s Table Soup Kitchen to get a meal for his dad, and when she left, Riggins was standing in the middle of 43rd Street with his arms open blocking Shelly’s vehicle.
They started fighting and soon after, the neighbors heard gunshots.
Shelly fled but surrendered around 11am
Both Shelly and Riggins have lived in Gifford for decades and have been in and out of prison since the 1990s, court records show.
Despite the acquittal, Assistant State’s Attorney William Long said the state had rejected Shelley’s self-defense version of events, based in part on evidence at the scene and witness statements given at trial.
“From the state’s analysis of the evidence, primarily that the victim was shot in the back, we did not lend credence to the theory that the definitive story was an accurate version of events,” Long said. “And while it was certainly a difficult case, it was a case that we believe should have gone to trial, and we continue to believe that we tried a fair case. Unfortunately, the jury just didn’t see it our way.”
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But prosecutor Walsh said Tuesday via email that the version of events presented by the defense at trial “was not only reasonable but plausible.
“The State was unable to overcome the strength of the defense argument on this ground. Specifically, the ballistics indicated that a firearm was likely used and that the firearm was a .38 special revolver,” Walsh said. “The victim was seen with such a weapon 40 minutes before his death. If the victim did in fact have the gun at the beginning of the incident, then Mr. Shelly was telling the truth when he surrendered and told the police he had to take the gun from the victim who shot him.”
There was also strong evidence, he said, showing the gun had been fired in two different directions, which supported Shelly’s version of events.
Melissa E. Holsman is the legal affairs reporter for TCPalm and Treasure Coast newspapers, and is the author and co-host of Uncertain Terms, a true crime podcast. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in Treasure Coast Newspapers: Sherman Shelly claims self-defense before jury acquits him of murder