In July 2012 Gulf County was rocked by the news that 32-year-old Everett Gant had been fatally shot at the Pine Ridge Apartments off Garrison Avenue in Port St. Joe by Walton Butler.
Gant died six weeks to the day after being shot between the eyes with a .22 caliber rifle.
Butler was charged with second degree murder with a firearm, evidencing prejudice based on race, or a hate crime specification.
According to the arresting affidavit, Butler acted as if “inconvenienced” when put under arrest, saying he could not understand the problem as he “had only shot a (racial epithet).”
In the ensuing year, the case has seen a series of starts and stops and in the most recent developments, Butler has invoked Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law and plans to contend that deadly force was his last resort and that he is entitled to immunity from arrest and prosecution.
The fateful day
Last year, on the evening of July 30, Butler, his mother and friend Robert Lynn, Sr. were at Butler’s apartment when neighbor Pamela Rogers, a white female, came to the door with an African-American child to get a soda, according to statements in the case file.
Butler answered the door and announced to Lynn that it was, “Pam and a little (racial epithet).”
Offended, Rogers, who was babysitting the child for a friend, immediately left the premises and went to a residence several units away.
During a subsequent interview with Gulf County Sheriff’s Deputy Ricky Tolbert, Rogers said that Butler and Lynn “talk in plain language” and said they made racial remarks “all the time.”
Tolbert asked Rogers why complaints hadn’t been filed with the apartment owner, but Rogers indicated that they wouldn’t do any good since Butler had lived there for so long.
Butler took his mother home to St. Joe Beach and upon returning to his apartment, the child’s mother confronted him and asked if he had, in fact, used a racially-insensitive word toward her son.
According to Butler’s statement, he said, “That’s what he is… a little (racial epithet).”
In his statement, Butler seemed confused as to why the woman found this so upsetting.
The child’s mother left and sometime later, Butler and Lynn were visited by Kenneth Dunham. Together they played a dice game and gambled for $1 a game.
As Dunham left, he warned Butler and Lynn that people in the apartments weren’t happy with the way he spoke to Rogers and that he’d heard that someone would be coming to pay him a visit later.
Lynn went on to say that, according to Dunham, someone was coming over, “to kill both of them.”
Shortly after Dunham left, Rogers returned to the apartment and asked Butler for some peppermint candy. She chastised him for using the racial slur toward the child and left his home in tears.
In Rogers’ statement she reported that her boyfriend, Everett Gant, saw her in tears and went toward Butler’s apartment. Dunham reported going with him and hoped he could calm down the situation.
After Rogers left, Lynn said he fell asleep in a chair and Butler made dinner.
A short time later, Gant, an African-American, showed up at the sliding glass door at the rear of Butler’s residence. Dunham said that Gant and Butler had not had previous issues and Lynn told police that he’d never seen Gant before.
Dunham went on to tell deputies that the man who made threats toward Butler and Lynn was in fact, the father of the boy with Rogers, not Gant.
Butler reported that Gant pounded on the door and yelled physical threats. Butler approached the door and what happened next is in dispute.
Butler and Lynn told police that Gant opened the sliding glass door and attempted to come into the house, but Dunham, who was right behind Gant, told a different story and claimed that Lynn was on his knees and pulled open the door.
“He’s always on his knees because he gets drunk and can’t walk,” Dunham told deputies. “This was all a setup.”
As Gant made his way into the apartment, Butler grabbed a nearby .22 caliber rifle, pulled the trigger, and fired, hitting Gant between the eyes. Gant fell in the doorway, half inside and half outside of the apartment.
Dunham said he tried to pull Gant out, but ran for cover when Butler began reloading the weapon.
Butler said in his statement that the gun didn’t always work, but he was glad it fired. He feared what would have happened otherwise.
Minutes later, Gant had regained enough consciousness to crawl out of the residence and onto the back porch. Butler shut the sliding glass door, “so insects wouldn’t get inside the apartment.”
Encouraged by Lynn, Butler called 911 immediately and reported the incident. He then sat down and ate part of his dinner. EMS was on scene seven minutes later.
When Gulf County Sheriff Joe Nugent arrived on scene, he called Butler prior to approaching the residence. Butler told the officer that he had put up the gun.
After Butler had given his statement, Tolbert told the shooter that he was being taken to jail for his safety.
“There’s a bunch of people gathering up around here that’s not very happy,” said Tolbert.
Deputies also spoke with Pamela Silcox, who works in the Pine Ridge offices. She had seen Butler and Lynn earlier in the day. Investigator Greg Skipper asked her if the men appeared to be intoxicated or under the influence.
“My personal opinion, that’s a daily thing,” answered Silcox. “They are their everyday self.”
She went on to say that anytime she had stopped by the apartment, morning, noon or night, there is always beer around. In his statements to police, Dunham had reported drinking beer during the evening.
The trial, originally scheduled for May of this year was rescheduled to July, and then continued to September after an unexpected motion was filed before the hearing.
On Jan. 4, Butler was analyzed by Dr. Michael T. D’ Errico, Ph.D., who determined Butler’s IQ level to be 81.
According to a notice of intent to rely on a mental health defense other than insanity, Butler’s IQ falls near the upper limit of the borderline range of intellectual functioning.
These findings will be used along with the “Stand Your Ground” law to state that Butler only shot Gant to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself and that he is entitled to immunity from arrest and prosecution.
The IQ analysis will also be used to explain the behavior and actions after the shooting.
The next hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. ET Sept. 9-10 at the Gulf County Courthouse.