BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – A judge will weigh arguments from a former Brevard County sheriff’s deputy that he was in fear for his life when he shot and killed a 25-year-old Palm Bay man while off-duty in what investigators described as a road rage incident.
Yousef Hafza, 34, was charged with second-degree murder in the 2016 Father’s Day death of 25-year-old Clarence Mahogany Howard, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
He also faces a charge of attempted second-degree murder in the shooting of the driver — a friend of Howard’s — who investigators said took cover as Hafza fired his weapon during the confrontation.
Hafza has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is seeking immunity through Florida's "stand your ground" law.
According to the law, a person can use deadly force in self-defense if he or she is in imminent threat of death or bodily harm.
A "stand your ground" immunity hearing is slated to begin 8:30 a.m. Friday before Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Mahl at the Moore Justice Center in Viera.
The judge’s decision could potentially weigh in on just how prosecutors will be able to pursue the case, which, if it brings a conviction, could see Hafza sentenced up to life in prison.
If immunity is granted, prosecutors would have the burden of proof to show Hafza was not in fear of his life.
The hearing will also determine whether several expert witnesses can be excluded from testifying in the case.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators said Hafza was off-duty on June 19, 2016 when the shooting incident unfolded. Investigators said Hafza was traveling on Emerson Drive in Palm Bay and told police that he was being followed by Howard and the driver in another car.
Investigators said Howard stopped his vehicle along the St. Johns Heritage Parkway in Palm Bay, where Hafza exchanged words with the men and then fired on them with his Brevard County-issued .40-caliber handgun, reports show.
Investigators determined that Hafza — who then drove away from the scene — never identified himself as a deputy or called 911 to report the incident before shooting. Shell casings were found about 50 feet from where Howard collapsed after being shot under the right arm, investigators reported. Howard was paralyzed instantly and died later.
The case stirred protests in Palm Bay and Melbourne with community leaders, family members and residents holding rallies to bring attention to the case. Weeks later Hafza was arrested.
At the time, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said there appeared to be a 'self-defense mechanism' to it.
Hafza later resigned from the agency. No trial date has been set in the case.