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The killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 marked the beginning of a new chapter of the struggle for civil rights in America. A mostly White jury acquitted George Zimmerman of the teen’s murder, in part because Florida’s stand your ground law permits a person to use deadly force in self-defense – even if that person could have safely retreated. Nationwide protests after the trial called for stand your ground laws to be repealed and reformed. But instead, stand your ground laws have expanded to 38 states. 

Reveal reporter Jonathan Jones talks with Byron Castillo, a maintenance worker in North Carolina who was shot in the chest after mistakenly trying to get into the wrong apartment for a repair. While Castillo wound up out of work and deep in debt, police and prosecutors declined to pursue charges against the shooter, who said he was afraid someone was trying to break into his apartment. Researchers have found that states that enacted stand your ground laws have seen an increase in homicides – one study estimated that roughly 700 more people die in the U.S. every year because of stand your ground laws. 

Opponents of stand your ground laws call them by a different name: “kill at will” laws. Jones speaks to lawmakers like Stephanie Howse, who fought against stand your ground legislation as an Ohio state representative, saying such laws put Black people’s lives at risk. Howse and other Democratic lawmakers faced off against Republican politicians, backed by pro-gun lobbyists, intent on passing a stand your ground bill despite widespread opposition from civil rights groups and law enforcement.

Modern-day stand your ground laws started in Florida. Reveal reporter Nadia Hamdan explores a 2011 road rage incident that wound up leading to an expansion of the law. She looks at how one case led Florida lawmakers, backed by the National Rifle Association, to enact a law that spells out that prosecutors, not defendants, have the burden of proof when claiming someone was not acting in self-defense when committing an act of violence against another individual.

Dig Deeper

Read: The Stand Your Ground Project

Read: Expansions to the Castle Doctrine

Read: ABA National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws

Watch: Watch Ohio state Rep. Stephanie Howse get cut off during ‘stand your ground’ debate

Credits

Reporters and producers: Jonathan Jones and Nadia Hamdan | Editors: Queena Kim and Brett Myers, with help from Nina Martin and Maryam Saleh | Additional research and reporting: Decca Muldowney | Production help: Anayansi Diaz-Cortes and Laura Pellicer | Fact checker: Nikki Frick | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda | Post-production team: Steven Rascón and Kathryn Styer Martinez | Interim executive producers: Taki Telonidis and Brett Myers | Host: Al Letson

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

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Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. It’s February 26th, 2012 in Sanford, Florida.
Sanford Officer:Sanford Police Department. This line is being recorded.
George Zimmerma…:Yeah. We’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood and there’s a real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.
Al Letson:George Zimmerman, who was a part of a neighborhood watch spotted 17-year old Trayvon Martin coming home from a convenience store. Zimmerman was armed and he followed him.
Sanford Officer:Are you following him?
George Zimmerma…:Yeah.
Sanford Officer:Okay. We don’t need you to do that.
Al Letson:A few minutes after that interaction with a 9-1-1 operator, Trayvon Martin was dead. According to Zimmerman, Martin punched him in the face and banged his head against the concrete. He says he shot Martin in the chest in self-defense. And of course, we’ll never know Martin’s side of the story.
Crowd:We are Trayvon Martin. We are Trayvon Martin.
Al Letson:And just like that, it seemed like the whole world changed. Arguably Trayvon Martin’s death marked the beginning of a new chapter in the struggle for civil rights in America, a nearly all white jury acquitted, George Zimmerman of second degree murder and manslaughter. One juror told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. That one of the reasons for that acquittal was Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law.
Juror:Well because of the heat at the moment and the Stand Your Ground, then he had a right to defend himself. If he felt threatened that his life was going to be taken away from him, or he was going to have bodily harm, he had a right.
Al Letson:Florida passed the nation’s first Stand Your Ground Law back in 2005. It allows people to use deadly force in public places if they fear for their lives, even if they could safely retreat. Martin’s death put a national spotlight on Stand Your Ground. Prompting calls for lawmakers to repeal and reform the statutes. But repeal and reform is not what happened. In the decade since Trayvon Martin’s death, Stand Your Ground laws have expanded by nearly 60%. Today, three quarters of the country, 38 states have some sort of policy in place. And as those laws have increased, so has the body count. Reveal’s Jonathan Jones has been digging into how Stand Your Ground is expanding and when it’s okay to kill in the name of self defense.
Jonathan Jones:For hundreds of years, self defense laws basically boiled down to this. If threatened, you had a duty to do whatever you could to escape before using deadly force. The one exception to this duty to retreat was the Castle Doctrine. Based on the old adage, a man’s home is his castle. Stand Your Ground laws expand the Castle Doctrine to places outside the home, to cars, to hallways, and to any place you have the legal right to be. Essentially the world is your castle. And if you feel threatened for your life, you can use deadly force to defend yourself. Even if it’s possible to safely retreat,
Byron Castillo:The law is messed up.
Jonathan Jones:When Byron Castillo’s morning alarm went off, he was in bed with his wife in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Byron Castillo:I remember that morning. It was really cold.
Jonathan Jones:It’s 36 degrees outside. It’s late January in 2020, and Byron doesn’t want to get up.
Byron Castillo:one of those days that you don’t want to do nothing.
Jonathan Jones:Byron grew up in Los Angeles.
Byron Castillo:And then I moved here to North Carolina, about 25 years ago.
Jonathan Jones:He says he wanted to get away from the gang violence in LA. He wanted his wife and kid to have a safer life. In North Carolina, he began working as a maintenance person and he got a job at the Chatham Wood Apartments. It’s in High Point, about 20 miles Southeast of Winston-Salem.
Byron Castillo:I was getting paid by job. It was about $300 just to repair the ceiling.
Jonathan Jones:And all that cold January morning, two and a half years ago, Byron gets to the apartment complex around 8:00 AM. He walks up the stairs to the second floor. He’s got his ladder and paint brushes and tools. And then he tries a key the apartment manager gave him, but it doesn’t work.
Byron Castillo:So I knock on the door. Then I say, “Maintenance, maintenance.”
Jonathan Jones:No one answers. So he knocks again.
Byron Castillo:It was just a matter of seconds. When someone opened the door and boom.
Jonathan Jones:Byron sees a gun go off. The bullet hits him in the chest. He says he stumbles backwards and falls to one knee and looks up at the guy.
Byron Castillo:I said, “Man, I was just coming to do repairs in your apartment and you just shot me like this.”
Jonathan Jones:Byron’s bleeding a lot. But he thinks I’ve got to get out of here.
Byron Castillo:But I said, “If I stay here, this guy’s going to shoot me again.”
Jonathan Jones:Somehow he manages to get to his truck and drives to the maintenance office and the staff call the police.
Byron Castillo:And he was a guy there from maintenance. I grabbed his hand and I said, “Man, please don’t let me go.” Because I was feeling short of breath. And I said, “Please don’t let me go, man. Please, please Lord, just let me live.”
Jonathan Jones:When Byron wakes up out of a coma 7 days later, he finds out the bullet had missed his heart by a hair. He also finds out that the manager texted him the wrong apartment number. He was supposed to be doing work on the unit below.
Byron Castillo:The officer show up at the hospital. And he said, “Well, we sorry for what happened.”
Jonathan Jones:Byron asks the police officer is the shooter in jail.
Byron Castillo:And he said, “No.” And I said, “Why?” And he said that he was feeling threat by me and he’s having his rights to shoot me because he was feeling threat.
Jonathan Jones:The shooter told police that he was afraid someone was trying to break into his apartment. So he opened the door and fired because North Carolina is a Stand Your Ground state with a Castle Doctrine. The shooter had no duty to retreat. As a result, no charges would be filed. Byron couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He was lucky to survive. But he was out of work for 6 months, relied on handouts from friends to pay his bills and mortgage and says he racked up more than a hundred thousand dollars in medical bills.
Byron Castillo:I got shot and this guy shot me. And the only thing you can say is, “I’m sorry.” Sorry is not going to pay my bills. Because they cut my stomach and they took the spleen off. And all those things that they did at the hospital.
Jonathan Jones:Byron says the shooter could have made other decisions rather than use his gun. There was no imminent threat, no attack in progress, no gun or shots fired. Nothing to suggest Byron was in any way dangerous. Couldn’t the shooter have yelled go away or just not open the door or he could have picked up the phone to call 9-1-1.
Byron Castillo:He could have called the police. Yes, yes.
Jonathan Jones:The High Point Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case. So he asked Steven Jansen a long time prosecutor for his thoughts.
Steven Jansen:It’s troubling to me because one, the individual never enters the house. So I would be concerned right there.
Jonathan Jones:Steven is a former director of the National District Attorney’s Association, the largest organization of prosecutors in the United States. And in 2007, he coauthored one of the first studies on Stand Your Ground laws. He says, “Before these laws were enacted, a prosecutor might have spent a month looking into a case like Byron’s. They might have asked if Byron wasn’t breaking into the house…”
Steven Jansen:Was the shooter then really in great danger or bodily harm. This individual I would argue reasonably could have picked up the phone called 9-1-1, called the police out to the scene.
Jonathan Jones:Steven says a prosecutor would’ve looked at the time of day and that the incident happened during normal working hours. Not in the middle of the night. Byron had also identified himself several times as a maintenance worker and he was also carrying tools.
Steven Jansen:But there’s a very quick decision made and he grabs his gun and uses it. And now he’s claiming self-defense. You try to look at what would a reasonable person have done.
Jonathan Jones:This is exactly the type of scenario Steven worried would happen after Stand Your Ground laws were first passed.
Steven Jansen:I had some concerns. Were these laws really necessary or are they going to have an adverse effect on the criminal justice system?
Jonathan Jones:His real worry was that it would make it much easier to get away with murder.
Steven Jansen:I think these statutes complicate police investigations. They have a huge impact on prosecutorial discretion on whether or not to charge a case.
Jonathan Jones:Steven’s 2007 study brought together. Police, prosecutors, academics, and public health experts. It predicted that Stand Your Ground laws would have a profound impact on the justice system and make it much harder to hold people accountable for unjustified killings. And ominously their report also predicted that Florida’s new Stand Your Ground law might allow people to use deadly force in situations that might otherwise be considered racial profiling or vigilantism. And then 5 years after the report was released, one shooting prompted a national conversation about Stand Your Ground laws.
Speaker 8:Now to the Trayvon Martin case.
Speaker 10:…after the shooting…
Speaker 9:The guy had his hands in the air saying, “The gun’s on the ground. I shot this guy in self-defense.”
Speaker 11:I am Trayvon Martin.
Crowd:I am Trayvon Martin.
Speaker 11:I am Trayvon Martin.
Crowd:I am Trayvon Martin.
Jonathan Jones:And since Trayvon Martin, controversial killings and defenses invoking Stand Your Ground haven’t stopped.
Speaker 42:So we’re going to begin with big developments in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial. Travis McMichael, and 2 other white men charged with murdering Arbery have claimed self-defense Kyle Rittenhouse trembled as he listened to the verdict and then collapsed onto the floor of the courtroom in Kenosha, Wisconsin today, a jury found him not guilty in all 5 counts, including first degree-
Jonathan Jones:The first Stand Your Ground state Florida is also one of the places where we know the most because so much research has been done there. In the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s killing, the Tampa Bay Times looked at more than 200 Stand Your Ground cases. It found nearly 70% of people who claim Stand Your Ground went free. Most of those cases involve situations where retreat was possible and almost two thirds of people killed were unarmed. And over the years there have been half a dozen major studies on Stand Your Ground laws. I’ve reviewed all of them and talked to the researchers. The latest was released earlier this year, around the 10th anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death. Michelle Degli Esposti at the University of Oxford is one of the co-authors.
Michelle Degli …:Florida had a big increase. So you can see Alabama was 27%, Louisiana 20%, Missouri 25%.
Jonathan Jones:25% more deaths after Stand Your Ground laws were enacted. Michelle’s team found these kinds of big double digit jumps, mostly in the south. Some states like Pennsylvania didn’t see increases in homicides after enacting Stand Your Ground. But there was no evidence that these laws led to a decrease in homicides anywhere. In fact, on average…
Michelle Degli …:We found that the enactment of Stand Your Ground laws led to an 8 to 10% increase in homicide across the US.
Jonathan Jones:8 to 10% more homicides after states enacted Stand Your Ground.
Michelle Degli …:Okay. 8 to 10% increase in homicide rates. What does that mean in terms of people?
Jonathan Jones:Michelle and her colleagues at Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania did the math. They estimate roughly 700 more people die in the US every year because of Stand Your Ground laws. That’s more than the total annual homicides in most European countries. Michelle says at this point, the research done since these laws were adopted is beginning to add up.
Michelle Degli …:What is important is that not just our study, but now it’s an accumulation of the body of evidence that Stand Your Ground laws endanger public safety. And by enacting these laws, you are enhancing, reinforcing, encouraging the use of deadly force, where it wasn’t needed and increasing the number of people dying by homicide.
Jonathan Jones:To many prosecutors and academics like Michelle, Stand Your Ground laws were a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. Self-defense laws have always allowed people to protect themselves and to use deadly force if they couldn’t get away. But now with Stand Your Ground, they don’t even have to try because it removes the duty to retreat.
Michelle Degli …:It kind of takes away the onus of the individual to remove themselves from a situation that could be dangerous and giving them the legal right to immediately use lethal force.
Jonathan Jones:When lawmakers speak about the need for Stand Your Ground, they often talk about a stranger with a gun or a knife attacking you and your family. But I’ve looked at about 150 Stand Your Ground cases going back a decade across the country. And in reality, many of the circumstances look nothing like that. For example, is it reasonable to kill someone because of a traffic altercation?
Speaker 13:No charges in filed after a deadly apparent road rage shooting.
Speaker 14:Investigators are still trying to put the pieces together. But they say it involved two drivers who didn’t know each other.
Jonathan Jones:Or to kill your unarmed roommate if you get into a fight because he refuses to leave your room.
Speaker 15:Man accused of shooting and killing his roommate during a disagreement at their west side home, we’ll spend tonight out of jail.
Jonathan Jones:Is it reasonable to kill an unarmed man in a movie theater after he throws popcorn at you?
Speaker 16:Not guilty in all charges, Curtis Reeves, acquitted of the murder of Chad Oulson after shooting him inside a Wesley Chapel movie theater.
Jonathan Jones:And what about killing an unarmed man experiencing homelessness and mental health issues. If he approaches you to ask for money,
Speaker 17:The homeless man was shot to death at a busy downtown corner. Now there are questions as to why a grand jury hasn’t filed any charges against the person who fired that fatal shot.
Jonathan Jones:And fundamentally, is it ever reasonable to kill another person unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Al Letson:And of course, behind all of this is race. When we come back, we’ll travel to Ohio to examine Republican efforts to push through a Stand Your Ground law despite widespread opposition from black lawmakers in the state. Lawmakers who argue on the floor of the State House, the black residents are already feared and targeted because of the color of their skin.
Representative …:Do you hear what I’m saying? I’ve been in these floors where I hear people telling me, “People are scared of you.”
Al Letson:That’s next on Reveal.
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Al Letson:From the center for investigative reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. There have been more than 350 mass shootings across the country so far this year, according to the gun violence archive. That’s an average of roughly 2 a day. This manmade disaster touches down in one community after the next leaving chaos and destruction. That’s what happened in Dayton, Ohio back in 2019.
Speaker 19:9-1-1, what’s the address of emergency?
Speaker 20:We’re in Downtown. We’re on Fifth Street in Dayton, Ohio.
Speaker 19:Okay, what’s going on there?
Speaker 20:There were shots fired. There was people hurt.
Al Letson:The shooter fired 41 rounds into a crowd. 9 people were gunned down in less than 30 seconds and another 27 were injured. The attack occurred just 13 hours after another mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. And the back to back killings, once again, renewed calls for gun control legislation. At a Memorial in Dayton, Ohio, Republican Governor Mike DeWine addressed mourners. As he spoke, the crowd began shouting over him to do something.
Mike DeWine:We care very, very deeply about you. And we will do everything that we can…
Crowd:Do something. Do something.
Mike DeWine:…to tell you that we care.
Al Letson:Two days later, the governor tried to do something. Calling on Ohio lawmakers to come together to enact modest common sense gun restrictions. Reveal’s Jonathan Jones has been looking into what Ohio’s legislature did next.
Jonathan Jones:2 and a half months after that mass shooting in Dayton, lawmakers introduced a new gun bill. But instead of gun restrictions, Republican lawmakers, Ron Hood, and Candace Keller introduced an expansion of gun rights, a Stand Your Ground law removing the duty to retreat.
Candace Keller:We introduced this bill for very simple reasons. First, for the safety of Ohio citizens. Secondly, to provide protections for those who are lawfully exercising their second amendment rights while defending themselves or-
Jonathan Jones:15 people, including Representative Keller spoke in support of the bill. More than 120 witnesses testified against it. And the legislation died in committee. But this wasn’t the first time GOP lawmakers had proposed a Stand Your Ground bill in Ohio. Republicans first introduced Stand Your Ground 6 years earlier in June, 2013, right around the time George Zimmerman went on trial for killing Trayvon Martin. The NAACP spoke out against the Ohio proposal. Opponents called it a Kill-at-will bill and it failed to pass the Senate. In 2017, Republican lawmakers tried 2 more times to push forward stand Your Ground laws. Neither passed. And then during another failed attempt in 2018, a debate about the racial implications of the law got heated.
Ryan Smith:The Chair recognizes Representative Howse.
Representative …:Permission to speak to the bill.
Ryan Smith:Permission granted.
Jonathan Jones:On the floor of the Ohio state house representative Stephanie House, a then democratic lawmaker from Cleveland tells colleagues that Stand Your Ground would put black Ohioans at risk.
Representative …:Why do people of color continue to say this? When your presence, when your being, your blackness causes fear. Do you hear what I’m saying? I’ve been in these floors where I hear people tell me, “People are scared of you.” It’s people I have never interacted with.
Jonathan Jones:She says there’s a reason why black lawmakers like her are speaking out. Because in America, black people are all too often seen as a threat.
Representative …:This is a bad idea for people that look like me.
Jonathan Jones:Then Representative Howse points out the demographics of the bill’s sponsors.
Representative …:And I always go back to the foundation. Who are you representing?
Jonathan Jones:She notes that many of them come from districts that are overwhelmingly white.
Representative …:Representative LaTourette House District 76, 96.2% white, 1.5% African Americans and black. Representative Terry Johnson, 94.9% white constituents, 2.4% black constituents for the 32.
Ryan Smith:Would the Lady please-
Jonathan Jones:And this is where it gets ugly.
Ryan Smith:..direct remarks towards the bill and keep personalities out of the-
Representative …:I’m not again-
Jonathan Jones:House speaker, Ryan Smith bangs his gavel and interrupts asking representative Howse to keep personalities out of it.
Representative …:I’m not again… Excuse me. Clarification to the speaker. These are the sponsors. We’re talking about constituencies and the impact of this legislation on constituencies.
Ryan Smith:And I’m asking you to keep the personalities away from the discussion.
Representative …:Again, this is the identification of, again, these sponsors and the 32 co-sponsors-
Ryan Smith:Please don’t-
Representative …:…and the constituencies, who again, the breakdown of Ohioans who are being represented. And again, I think that is fair to bring that up in legislation that will have desperate impacts on people of color. But again, when you don’t consider color, it’s easy to throw it away and aside. And we can talk about the conversation that we had. Or in this body, you talked about that race really wasn’t important, and we don’t have a problem with race.
Ryan Smith:[inaudible].
Representative …:So again-
Jonathan Jones:Speaker Smith slams his gavel and cuts off her mic. Then he directs the Sergeant at Arms to physically remove Representative Howse. But several lawmakers stand in front of her, making a human wall to protect her.
Ryan Smith:The question is, shall the bill pass as amended, the House will prepare and proceed to vote.
Jonathan Jones:With Representative Howse’s microphone cut off, the Speaker opens the vote.
Ryan Smith:The Lady will take her seat and refrain from being disruptive. Please.
Representative …:You want to show them and have a conversation about race, Speaker Smith? Again-
Ryan Smith:The lady will refrain. Please.
Representative …:… represents 1.4%, again, African Americans. But you just deny wanting to have a conversation about race.
Ryan Smith:Have all members now voted? With 64 affirming of votes and 26 negative votes, the bill is here by passed and entitled-
Jonathan Jones:The 2018 Stand Your Ground bill eventually failed after then Governor John Kasich threatened to veto it. But to Representative Howse, the message from Republicans was clear. Pro-gun lawmakers were intent on passing a Stand Your Ground law, even if doing it meant silencing the voices of black lawmakers.
Representative …:He caught off my mic and I was like, “Oh no, you’re not going to silence me.”
Jonathan Jones:The other message he took from the incident was that force like calling on the Sergeant at Arms to remove her happens so quickly to Representative Howse and other black lawmakers. This was exactly the kind of thing that too often happens when black people stand up to authority.
Representative …:What happens when the cameras aren’t on? When it’s two people and one person ends up not being here anymore. And you only have one person to tell a story. That’s what happens. Literally because emotions run high. Most people unfortunately think that blackness is a threat and you can easily say, “I feared for my life.”
Jonathan Jones:Why was there such this push to get this law passed in Ohio?
Representative …:Because again, I do think there are a lot of people who are very afraid of the browning of America. I mean, let’s just be for real. That is a lot of white man’s fear, in particular.
Jonathan Jones:Studies show that self-defense laws are full of racial bias. Research by the Urban Institute found that white on black homicides are 10 times more likely to be ruled justified than black on white. And the gap is even larger in Stand Your Ground states. All in all, in Ohio, Republican lawmakers tried to pass a Stand Your Ground law 9 different times.
Ryan Smith:Chair recognizes Representative Koehler.
Jonathan Jones:The final attempt came just before midnight on December 17th, 2020.
Representative …:Thank you, Mr. Speaker move to amend AM-1333883.
Jonathan Jones:When Republican Kyle Koehler inserted the Stand Your Ground language into another unrelated bill, it was was a legislative maneuver that depending on how you look at it was either a clever strategy or an unconstitutional overreach.
Representative …:Amendment 3883 does one simple thing. It extends the right to law abiding citizens to defend themselves anywhere they’re illegally allowed to be, as long as they are not the original aggressor in a situation they are involved with.
Jonathan Jones:Democrats, including Jeff Crossman stood up to oppose the amendment.
Representative …:This is not the legislation the people of Ohio called for when they shouted for us to do something after last year’s shooting in Dayton.
Jonathan Jones:Several black female lawmakers also spoke up against the last minute move to insert the language into the bill, including Representative Howse.
Representative …:When it comes to this amendment, black people are going to die disproportionately than white people. And if you feel a certain type of way, why by me calling out black people, white people, ask yourself why. Ask these questions. This is not funny. It is not cute. Most of y’all don’t even represent enough black people to even have an informed decision. You know what I’m saying? To make a decision. And then when people give you facts, facts, it’s like we don’t care. Because as long as the NRA happy, I’m good. It ain’t right.
Jonathan Jones:That night, the bill passed along party lines with not a single Democrat voting in favor. Afterward, the NAACP and several democratic lawmakers sued to strike down the law. That lawsuit is pending. I asked Representative Koehler, who inserted the Stand Your Ground language into the bill, what he would say to those who believe it will hurt people of color.
Representative …:The fact of the matter is we do still have racial issues in this country. This bill is not trying to fix that. It’s not trying to make it worse. It is in fact, just trying to deal with the fact that people are getting killed and we need to do everything we can to allow people to not only protect themselves. But also produce good laws that allow everyone to exist in this country without being targeted for some reason, especially for race.
Jonathan Jones:If this bill has been controversial, it’s come up several times. Why not just propose it as its own so that you could have a robust debate before doing it. Why not just have that final robust debate?
Representative …:The fact of the matter is when a Senate bill comes over to the house, we can do anything we want with it and they can’t control us. The amendment that I put into the bill is the exact same language that I was carrying and had multiple hearings in the House. So when it comes to whether the bill had hearings, it definitely did.
Jonathan Jones:There was hope the Governor DeWine might veto the bill based on his calls for comprehensive gun safety measures, after the Dayton shooting. Instead when this bill got to his desk, he signed it. It turns out years earlier, he had promised the gun lobby in writing that he’d pass Stand Your Ground.
Al Letson:That’s Reveal’s Jonathan Jones. Coming up. We go to Florida where more than a decade after passing Stand Your Ground, legislators expanded it even further. Critics say these new changes to the law, make it even easier to claim self-defense and get away with murder.
David LaBahn:Why should you be immune when you take another person’s life?
Al Letson:That’s next on Reveal.
Katherine Miesz…:Hi, my name’s Katherine Mieszkowski and I’m a Senior Reporter and Producer here at Reveal. Reveal is nonprofit news organization. And we depend on support from our listeners. Donate today at revealnews.org/donate. Thanks.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. In June, the Supreme court issued a major ruling on guns. In a 6 to 3 decision. The court said that people have broad rights to carry firearms in public. And if more people carry guns, it’s also more likely that more people will use them. So today we’re looking at Stand Your Ground laws. That’s what gun advocates call them, anyway. Critics call them shoot first laws. As in shoot first, ask questions later.

Most of the country now has some form of Stand Your Ground law on the books. And in some places, lawmakers have begun to expand them even further. We want to close out today’s show. By looking back to my home state, Florida. It was the first to pass a Stand Your Ground law back in 2005. And in recent years, lawmakers have passed brand new legislation that makes it even harder to prosecute people who kill and then claim self-defense. Reveal’s Nadia Hamdan traces the roots of this new law back more than a decade to one family’s Florida vacation.
Nadia Hamdan:It all started on a trip to the happiest place on earth. It’s 2011, Ronald Bretherick and his family are visiting South Florida from their home state of Indiana. It’s the holidays. And they just spent Christmas with relatives. But before heading back home, they decide to see a little more of Florida. So they head up to Orlando. They’re on the freeway driving to, you guessed it, Disney World.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:This was a 6 lane divided highway, which at that point in time being the holiday season was extremely heavy with traffic.
Nadia Hamdan:This is Ron’s former sister-in-law Dawn Drellos-Thompson. The Bretherick family did not want to be interviewed for this story, but confirms everything Dawn is about to tell us. Ron is driving in his car with his wife, adult son, and teenage daughter. They’re on the highway when Ron sees a Cadillac Escalade in his rear view mirror. He noticed the SUV was barreling down on drivers, swerving in and out of lanes.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:We saw him coming, but he didn’t expect him to suddenly veer into his lane and then push him off.
Nadia Hamdan:That’s when Dawn says that Ron honks his horn to let the guy know, “Hey, watch out.”
Dawn Drellos-Th…:The family didn’t think anything more of it. And they thought, “Okay, he’s on his way.”
Nadia Hamdan:But then the Escalade appears again.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:And this time swerved into their lane and stopped dead.
Nadia Hamdan:Ron slams his brakes. There they are stopped in the middle of a busy freeway. Cars are flying by.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:It stunned the family,
Nadia Hamdan:The man in the Escalade is Derek Dunning. We reached out to him for comment, but he never got back to us. But court documents show after stopping in front of the Bretherick’s, he gets out of his car and walks towards them.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:My brother-in-law sees Mr. Dunning approaching their car and he says to my sister, “Could you please get the gun out of the glove compartment? There’s something not right here.”
Nadia Hamdan:She hands the gun to Ron. He’s licensed to carry a concealed handgun.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:My brother-in-law holds it up in the window and waves his hand like, “Please go away. Leave my family alone. Never takes a gun out of the holster.”
Nadia Hamdan:And it seems to work.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:Mr. Dunning does see that gun and he returns back to his car. At that point, though, it appears to the family he’s back in the car up.
Nadia Hamdan:Dawn says that’s when her sister and niece run for safety to the side of the road, dodging cars on the busy highway. But Ron he’s in his 60s, disabled. He isn’t able to get out of the car so easily.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:So my nephew doesn’t want to abandon him.
Nadia Hamdan:Her nephew is Ron’s son, Jared Bretherick. And he’s the reason we’re telling this story. Jared decides to take the gun, get out of the car and stand by the driver’s side door near his dad. Jared is also licensed to carry a concealed handgun.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:Jared’s desire is not to shoot. He points the gun towards the tires of Mr. Dunning’s vehicle, because really he’s just worried about the car backing up and ramming them.
Nadia Hamdan:Everyone is on the phone with 9-1-1 by now. Transcripts of those calls, along with court documents, paint a picture of a volatile and confusing situation. With his gun pointed at the Escalade, Jared tells Dunning to move his truck or he’ll be shot. The 9-1-1 transcript show. Jared was worried Dunning may have a gun. But in the Escalade, Dunning is on the phone with 9-1-1 too. He tells the operator that he’s afraid to move because he worries Jared will shoot. Minutes are ticking by that’s when Jared’s dad tells the dispatcher, if police don’t get there soon, they’re going to quote, “cap this son of a bitch.”
Dawn Drellos-Th…:It is a difficult statement to hear for sure on the 9-1-1 call. But when you’re in the heat of the moment and you’re not sure why this guy who has just seen your gun is not leaving. What’s going through your mind right now?
Nadia Hamdan:Police arrive on the scene and question everyone, the Bretherick’s, Dunning, and eyewitnesses. They also search Dunning’s car, no gun. Jared’s arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:Jared of all people. He was just a very good young man.
Nadia Hamdan:Jared had no criminal record. Now if convicted, he would face a minimum of 3 years in prison.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:That’s a very tough pill of swallow.
Nadia Hamdan:Dawn is one of the only lawyers in the family. That’s how she got involved in all this. The Bretherick’s wanted her help. And remind me again what type of lawyer are you?
Dawn Drellos-Th…:I’m an estate planning attorney, trust and estates. I mean, never in my wildest dreams.
Nadia Hamdan:Together, Dawn and the Bretherick’s decide to fight.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:We just felt that under the circumstances, how could anybody reasonable believe that this family did not have a right to defend themselves?
Nadia Hamdan:They didn’t know it then, but this would be a 4 year journey that would take Jared’s case all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. And it would help redefine hundreds of years of self-defense law, particularly when it comes to the burden of proof. Dawn starts looking for criminal defense attorneys who can represent Jared. And she finds Eric Friday, a lawyer with the gun rights group, Florida Carry. It has close ties to the National Rifle Association. Dawn tells him about Jared and he’s eager to take the case
Dawn Drellos-Th…:Right away Attorney Friday said, “We need to file for a Stand Your Ground hearing.”
Nadia Hamdan:So that’s what they do. They schedule a pre-trial hearing to try and prove to a judge that Jared was in fear for his life. So he should have immunity from prosecution under Florida Stand Your Ground law. But the judge doesn’t agree because even though Derek Dunning was threatening when he got out of his Escalade on that busy highway, he then got back inside, which the court saw as a retreat. So the judge ruled that when Jared pointed the gun, he wasn’t being reasonable because the threat was no longer imminent. He’d have to stand trial.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:The judge, at that point, didn’t feel that Jared had carried the burden and issued a ruling against Jared.
Nadia Hamdan:For centuries, the burden of proof and self-defense cases has been on the person who claims self-defense. Like, if you shoot somebody, you have to prove that you were facing an imminent threat to your life and that you acted reasonably. But Stand Your Ground laws, throw the burden of proof into question, or at least Jared’s attorney’s thought so.
Dawn Drellos-Th…:And I think that they had always been looking for a case with the right factual scenario, more or less, that would appeal to a court.
Eric Friday:Bretherick’s case was the first case to actually raise the question, who has the burden of proof?
Nadia Hamdan:That’s Jared’s attorney, Eric Friday. He argues that the burden of proof never should have been on Jared. Instead, he claims that Florida Stand Your Ground. Law was meant to put the entire burden on prosecutors. And so if prosecutors really didn’t think Jared was in fear for his life…
Eric Friday:Sit there and let the state prove it.
Nadia Hamdan:When the Florida legislature passed Stand Your Ground in 2005, the law gave defendants immunity from prosecution. But it didn’t really explain how people get it. So the courts worked out a process. Defendants like Jared would go to pre-trial hearings to argue that they deserve immunity. But Eric Friday says that if you have to prove you deserve immunity, it’s not really immunity. As far as he sees it, Jared was the victim and victims shouldn’t be treated like suspects.
Eric Friday:May it please the court, Eric Friday, on behalf of the appellant, Jared Bretherick, I’d like to reserve 5 minutes for rebuttal.
Nadia Hamdan:And he took this argument to the Florida Supreme Court.
Eric Friday:Your honors, this statute called for a new rule of procedure. It called for a new rule for the courts to give a way to handle these cases in a way that comports with the legislative intent, which was to grant additional protections to citizens who were attacked, where they have a right to be.
Nadia Hamdan:Eric tells the court the same thing he told me. You shouldn’t have to prove you deserve immunity. You should just get it. But quickly then Florida Supreme Court Justice, Barbara Joan Pariente pushes back.
Barbara Joan Pa…:I see nothing in the legislation that indicates that is the standard. I see nothing in any other state that has ever gone that way. And so I’m trying to see where, other than pulling it out of the stratosphere, we would come up with that additional burden.
Nadia Hamdan:The attorney representing the state, Kristen Davenport argues just because Jared didn’t get immunity at his pre-trial hearing doesn’t mean he’s guilty. It just means he has to stand trial.
Kristen Davenpo…:Mr. Bretherick is free to raise his arguments in front of a jury. Just because he lost when he had the burden of proof in front of a judge doesn’t mean he is going to lose in front of a jury. He still has that right. It didn’t change anything. Is there-
Barbara Joan Pa…:By any state-
Nadia Hamdan:Justice Pariente again.
Barbara Joan Pa…:Any state that has a Stand Your Ground law that has put into place a pre-trial evidentiary hearing where the state would have to prove before a judge that the force was not justifiable beyond a reasonable doubt.
Kristen Davenpo…:There is none. That is unprecedented.
Nadia Hamdan:In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court ruled against Jared. Justices argue that the state Stand Your Ground law doesn’t give him blanket immunity that Jared and anyone else claiming self-defense has to prove that they deserve it. That they really were in fear for their lives. 4 years after Jared and his family were confronted on that highway, his case gets kicked back down to the trial court and he takes a plea, 1 year probation. And while that was the end for Jared, this had grown much bigger than one man’s case. While reporting this story. I spoke to half a dozen attorneys who told me that what Eric Friday was proposing would effectively tie the hands of prosecutors.
David LaBahn:It creates an almost impossibility.
Nadia Hamdan:David LaBahn is the President and CEO of the National Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. It serves as an advocate for prosecutors across the country. He says, “It’s crucial for people who claim Stand Your Ground to first prove to a court that they acted in self-defense. Otherwise…”
David LaBahn:We’ve got to disprove something even when the defense has not presented evidence that, in fact, it’s true.
Nadia Hamdan:And he says, not all cases are like Jared’s. Derek Dunning, he’s alive. He can testify about what happened to him. What about the cases where the only other witness was shot dead?
David LaBahn:Only the defendant knows what she or he was feeling at the time that they took that life.
Nadia Hamdan:He says, “Fear is subjective. Asking prosecutors to get inside someone’s head…”
David LaBahn:Is an extraordinary burden.
Nadia Hamdan:One defense attorney I spoke to put it plainly. He said, “If he doesn’t have to prove a client acted in self-defense, he could just lay back, go to sleep. He wouldn’t have to do anything unless a prosecutor could somehow convince a judge that wasn’t self-defense.” David says, “Justified or not, every homicide deserves an explanation.”
David LaBahn:Why should you be immune when you take another person’s life?
Nadia Hamdan:But despite opposition from prosecutors and despite a floor to Supreme Court ruling, the law would change. Because Jared’s case had caught the eye of the NRA and not just anyone at the NRA, it caught the eye of Marion hammer. She was one of the NRAS, most powerful lobbyists. And while she declined to be interviewed for this story, she’s got quite the reputation. Here’s what Eric Friday had to say.
Eric Friday:Extremism and defense of Liberty is no vice and moderation is no virtue. I’d say in my experience, Ms. Hammer applies that personally.
Nadia Hamdan:Not only was she the first female President of the NRA. But she’s largely credited with getting Florida’s original Stand Your Ground law passed back in 2005. Marion hammer lives in Florida. She’s got a page boy haircut, wears brightly colored blazers and stands less than five feet tall. She’s known to be a fierce and sometimes ruthless advocate for gun rights. To get an idea. You need only talk to Charles McBurney.
Charles McBurne…:I think I had a good to excellent relationship with the NRA.
Nadia Hamdan:Charles is a former Florida House Republican. And during his nearly 10 years in the House, he says he had either an A or A+ rating from the NRA.
Charles McBurne…:The person that I probably dealt with the most was Marion Hammer. And I would describe that relationship as professional.
Nadia Hamdan:But all that changed once Marion Hammer decided to help push through a bill at the start of the 2016 legislative session. If passed, defendants would no longer have to prove they acted in self-defense. It quickly died in committee.
Charles McBurne…:So during my experience in the Florida legislature, once a bill fails, that’s the end of it.
Nadia Hamdan:Somehow though it popped back up again at the very end of session.
Charles McBurne…:And I don’t recall that ever happening.
Nadia Hamdan:It was weird, but once the bill was revived as the head of the house judiciary committee, it was Charles’s decision whether to give it another hearing. But he shared the same concerns as some Supreme Court Justices.
Charles McBurne…:Was not aware of that happening anywhere in any state. When you go into a novel area of law, what are the consequences out there?
Nadia Hamdan:Charles had been practicing law for more than 4 decades. And he worried shifting the burden of proof this way could make it harder to hold people accountable. And so he tells Marion Hammer no, and he lets the bill die again.
Charles McBurne…:Well, she wasn’t happy.
Nadia Hamdan:But this was Charles’ last term. He didn’t think he had much to lose. And while he says he wasn’t alone in his concern about this bill, he was in a unique position to speak up because he didn’t have to worry about being reelected.
Charles McBurne…:You could take those bullets, the proverbial bullets. And that’s not-
Nadia Hamdan:Right. You don’t want to make an enemy of the NRA while you’re still-
Charles McBurne…:Right. And I will tell you that’s not unusual. And that was my thought is that, “Okay. Well, I’ll make this decision because I know know that there are a number of members, who feel as I do, that I don’t want to put them in that position.”
Nadia Hamdan:As his time in the state legislature was coming to an end, Charles started looking to the next thing and he decided to apply for a judicial position in a Florida Circuit Court. His was one of the names sent to the Governor for consideration. And that’s when he learned just how unhappy Marion Hammer was about his decision to kill the bill.
Charles McBurne…:There was, I think, they called an alert from the NRA.
Nadia Hamdan:The alert went out to its members. It asked them to email then Governor Rick Scott with a subject line, Charles McBurney is unfit to be a judge. All caps. The alert even goes on to call him arrogant. And according to local news reports, thousands of emails poured into the Governor’s inbox.
Charles McBurne…:Obviously, I didn’t get the appointment.
Nadia Hamdan:Charles says, he’s not sure the governor would’ve appointed him without those emails. But he is sure they didn’t help.
Charles McBurne…:Marion got her, I guess, revenge, for lack of a better term.
Nadia Hamdan:He says, “It felt like she was trying to make an example of him to show what happens when lawmakers go against the NRA.” So he wrote an op-ed in the Florida Times Union, directly to Marion Hammer. And he didn’t pull any punches. He called the bill a pro-criminal bill. And at the end, I’ll just let him read it for you.
Charles McBurne…:It’s the message being sent to our legislators and elected officials that you can be with me on virtually everything. But if you crossed me once, even if the issue doesn’t involve the second amendment, I will take you out. Even if you leave the legislature or that elected office. Without a doubt, that’s the message being sent.
Nadia Hamdan:In 2017. Governor Rick Scott signed into law that self-defense immunity bill. Anyone claiming self-defense in Florida no longer has to prove it. Florida Stand Your Ground law was already tough. Now it’s pretty much bulletproof. David LaBahn represents prosecutors across the country. And he says, “Nobody wants an innocent person to go to prison. But we, as a society, agree that life is sacred. And if you kill someone, even if it was to save yourself, why shouldn’t you have to answer for it?”
David LaBahn:When you take life, we should know why you took that life and how you took that life.
Nadia Hamdan:Who knew a trip to Disney world could end up here?
Al Letson:After Florida, Utah and South Dakota passed similar laws expanding Stand Your Ground. And many experts tell us it’s likely that more states will follow. That story is from Reveal’s Nadia Hamdan. Nadia produced today’s episode, along with Jonathan Jones.

Queen Akim and Brett Myers edited the show with additional editing from Nina Martin and Maryam Saleh. Deco Muldowney provided research and reporting for today’s show. And thanks to Anayansi Diaz-Cortes and Laura Pellicer for production help. Nikki Frick is our fact checker. Victoria Baranetsky is our General Counsel. Our production managers, Amy, the great, Mostafa. Original score and sound design by the dynamic duo Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man yo, Arruda. Our post production team is the Justice League. And this week it includes Kathryn Styer Martinez and Steven Rascon. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our CEO is Kaizar Campwala. Sumi Aggarwal is our editor in chief. Our interim executive producers are Taki Telonidis and Brett Myers. Our theme song is by Camerado Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D and Katherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Inasmuch Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.
Speaker 34:From PRX.

Jonathan Jones is a reporter and producer for Reveal. In his two decades in journalism, he has produced a series of award-winning investigations on topics ranging from eminent domain to problems in the fertility industry. He has covered conflict and human rights in 10 countries, including Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. In 2013, he teamed up with A.C. Thompson of ProPublica and PBS Frontline on a yearlong investigation into abuse and neglect at the largest assisted living company in the United States. In 2015, his exposé of Firestone's operations during the Liberian Civil War for ProPublica and PBS Frontline was awarded two News & Documentary Emmy Awards for outstanding investigative journalism and outstanding research, as well as the top Investigative Reporters and Editors Award in the large multiplatform category. In 2018, Jones, along with colleagues at WNYC's Snap Judgment, won the Best Documentary Gold Award at the Third Coast International Audio Festival for "Counted: An Oakland Story," which profiled those lost to violence in Oakland, California, in 2017 and the impact on their communities.

Nadia Hamdan (she/her) is a producer for Reveal. Previously, she was a public radio reporter with NPR station KUT 90.5 in Austin, Texas. Hamdan's reporting has been heard on NPR's “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” WBUR’s “Here & Now” and the BBC’s “World Service,” among other programs. She's won numerous awards for her reporting, including a national Public Media Journalists Association Award, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and multiple Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Awards. Hamdan was awarded a Texas Gavel Award from the State Bar of Texas for a podcast on why sexual assaults are so hard to prosecute in Austin. She once conducted an entire interview while riding a mule through downtown Austin, where she is based.

Queena Sook Kim

Queena Sook Kim is a senior editor for Reveal. She was previously at KQED, where she supervised the weekend desk. Before that, she headed the Silicon Valley desk and hosted a statewide daily news show, The California Report, for the station. Kim was also a senior reporter covering technology for Marketplace and covered homebuilding and toys at The Wall Street Journal. She has spent much of her career starting up shows and editorial projects for local public radio stations. She most recently edited an eight-part documentary, “The Political Mind of Jerry Brown.” Kim is also the head of audio at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Her stories have appeared on NPR, WNYC’s The Takeaway, Here & Now, BBC’s Global Perspective and The New York Times’ multimedia page.

Nina Martin (she/her) is the features editor for Reveal. She develops high-impact investigative reporting projects for Reveal’s digital and audio platforms and television and print partners. Previously, she was a reporter at ProPublica, covering sex and gender issues, and worked as an editor and/or reporter at San Francisco magazine, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Health magazine and BabyCenter magazine. Her Lost Mothers project for ProPublica and NPR examining maternal mortality in the U.S. led to sweeping change to maternal health policy at the state and federal levels and won numerous awards. Martin is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Maryam Saleh is an investigative editor for Reveal. Previously, she worked at The Intercept, where she most recently edited stories about immigration, criminal justice and international human rights. She also worked as a reporter at The Intercept and was part of an award-winning team, with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, that exposed the misuse of solitary confinement at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities. Saleh attended law school and has a graduate degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Washington, D.C.

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes is a reporter and producer for Reveal. Her work has been featured everywhere from All Things Considered to  Radio Ambulante and  This American Life. She is a recipient of the Overseas Press Club Award, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation award. She was the creator and lead producer for KCRW’s Sonic Trace, a storytelling project that was part of AIR’s Localore initiative. Previously, she produced for Radio Diaries and has done extensive reporting in both the U.S. and Mexico. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Nikki Frick is the associate editor for research and copy for Reveal. She previously worked as a copy editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and held internships at The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and Washingtonpost.com. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was an American Copy Editors Society Aubespin scholar. Frick is based in Milwaukee.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is a production assistant for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Kathryn Styer Martínez

Kathryn Styer Martínez (she/ella) is a production assistant for Reveal. She studies audio and photojournalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She is also a Greater Good Science Center reporting fellow, focusing on Latino well-being.

Martínez was the 2020-21 Toni Randolph reporting fellow at Minnesota Public Radio, the 2019-20 New Economy Reporting Project fellow and the former director of KGPC-LP FM, Peralta Community Radio. Her work has appeared in El Tecolote, The Oaklandside, MPR News, National Public Radio, Outside Online, Talk Poverty, New Life Quarterly and Making Contact.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in Raza studies and political science from San Francisco State University.

Taki Telonidis is an interim executive producer for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.