MIAMI — A former Miami Dade College student who stabbed a South Miami man to death lost his bid for immunity under Florida's self-defense law.
A judge on Thursday ruled that James Arauz, 23, did not act in self-defense when he stabbed Vincent Pravata in October 2009. Arauz claimed that Pravata, who acted as a mentor and had penned a letter of recommendation for an internship, made sexual advances and chased him around the man's house.
Arauz's defense attorney can still argue self-defense before a jury. Trial is set for May 13.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Yvonne Colodny pointed out that Arauz, after stabbing Pravata, meticulously cleaned up the crime scene, stole the man's credit card and went on a shopping spree seemingly to impress a girlfriend.
Arauz never called police and he lied to detectives and others about what happened, the judge said.
"Taken in their totality, these actions do not reflect someone who had simply been trying to protect himself from death or seriously bodily injury," Colodny wrote in her five-page-order. "Rather, they reflect a consciousness of guilt and an attempt to avoid legal consequences."
Florida's 2005 Stand Your Ground law has come under scrutiny in recent years after several high-profile cases. The law removed a citizen's duty to retreat before using lethal force in the face of a threat.
The law also gave judges greater leeway to grant immunity to defendants who used deadly force while defending themselves. In Miami-Dade, judges so far have thrown out three murder cases.
Arauz's mother worked for Pravata as a housekeeper. Arauz, an engineering student, testified during an immunity hearing in November that the openly gay man occasionally made comments about Arauz's "beautiful eyes" and asked if he'd ever thought about gay sex.
The defendant said he had gone to Pravata's home for the internship letter, but claimed Pravata demanded sexual favors. Arauz claimed he rejected Pravata's advances but the man "went into a rage and tried to pin me against a wall."
Arauz claimed he grabbed a decorative knife from a cabinet and stabbed Pravata 18 times when the man tried to prevent him from leaving.
But Judge Colodny pointed out that Arauz, who had been fired from his job at Babies 'r' Us, had told his girlfriend before the murder he was going to come home with money.
He returned with Pravata's credit cards, which he used "by purchasing meals, drinks and video game equipment," the judge wrote. "When not using the credit cards, he kept them secreted in the trunk of his vehicle."
Arauz was also facing an outstanding shoplifting charge at the time. He was charged with second-degree murder and credit card theft.