Jury convicts Florida man of murder after killing gunman after shooting
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Lawyers pored over CCTV footage in court this month, slowing and blasting it day after day so jurors could review the decision. Brandon Cowins said he had only moments to spare when a gunman opened fire outside his home.
Pushed by his girlfriend — or to protect other residents of his Florida neighborhood from bullets — Cowins backed his car out of the driveway and raced down the street to where Anthony Esquivel, 20 years old, fled after he stopped pulling the trigger.
Cowins swerved into Esquivel as he ran, hitting him with his car and throwing him 40 feet. He died instantly.
Deputies charged Cowins with premeditated murder on July 24, 2021. He fought the charge at trial last week, leaving jurors to decide whether he killed Esquivel in a fit of rage or to prevent what he believed be in imminent danger. The jury landed somewhere in between.
They didn’t believe Cowins had plotted to kill Esquivel, but they didn’t believe killing him was justified either. Jurors convicted the 27-year-old of second-degree murder, sparing him an automatic life sentence and leaving his fate to the discretion of Circuit Judge Daliah Weiss.
Family dispute in Palm Beach County neighborhood interrupted by gunfire
An argument between Esquivel and her mother’s boyfriend precipitated the shooting along Urquhart Street in Lake Worth, Florida. Witnesses said the men fought loudly over Esquivel’s decision to spend the previous night with a woman. The argument woke Cowins and his girlfriend, asleep next door.
Cowins’ girlfriend went to the yard they shared with the Esquivel family to act as a mediator, assistant public defender Stephanie Gagerie said. Cowins was more interested in replacing his car’s air filter. He was standing in the driveway with his car keys in hand when Esquivel fired his gun.
Witnesses said Esquivel hid the gun in his backpack and began to walk away from the yard before sprinting off, leaving his and Cowins’ families shaken but unharmed behind. Fifty-three seconds later, Cowins backed out of his driveway and sped towards Esquivel.
“In no way is it self-defense,” Assistant State’s Attorney Francine Edwards said. “Under none.”
It was retaliation, she said – punishment, revenge, vigilance. Cowins’ attorneys disagreed.
Defense attorneys say Cowins’ ‘protective’ instinct kicked in
Gagerie said Cowins cried as he walked over to his retreating neighbor, unsure if his girlfriend had been shot and panicked about what Esquivel planned to do next. The lawyer mimicked for jurors what Cowins said that went through his mind when he put his foot on the accelerator: “He still has a gun. Other people are in danger. I do? How can I stop this?”
He should have called the police, Assistant District Attorney Courtney Behar said.
Cowins told jurors he was traumatized by a life of loss and was desperate to protect loved ones and neighbors from Esquivel’s line of fire. Witnesses said he jumped out of the car to confront Esquivel after hitting him, not yet realizing he was dead.
He faces up to 30 years in prison. Weiss will sentence him on August 25.
Hannah Phillips is a reporter covering public safety and criminal justice at the Palm Beach Post, a member of the USA TODAY Network. You can reach her at email@example.com.