TAMPA — Two men live at the end of Caron Road in Tampa in homes divided by a narrow fence. They have been at odds for almost 10 years. One man plays his music too loud. The other man calls the police.
This is how it was until January 22, when police caller had a few beers and shouted across the fence to music lover. Then came words and threats and fists. There was a trial and a guilty verdict. And then the sentencing fell to Judge Paul Huey, last week, in Courtroom 19.
Would he send the man to jail? Would he sentence him to probation? Or in the interest of a more cosmic justice would he do something he's never done before?
• • •
Caron Road is short and straight and dead ends into a peaceful patch of woods in northwest Hillsborough County.
Tony Alli lived here first, in a modest house with a pool. He's 43, a husband and father of two who has a steady job in customer service for a collection agency. He's also West Indian, from Guyana, in South America. He has lived in the U.S. since he was 11. He has a tattoo of a tiger on his right arm and Jesus on his left.
And he likes music when he gets off work.
"Indian music," he calls it, reggae and calypso.
Jose Linares moved in about 10 years ago. He's 48, a husband and father of two who has worked as a Ford mechanic for 25 years. He tinkers with the junk cars that ring his property and enjoys light beer and peace and quiet when he gets off work.
No one remembers when the feud started exactly, but it can be said, at least, that early on Linares called code enforcement to complain about Alli's septic tank. Then he called the police to complain about Alli's music.
Then again. And again. And again.
For nine years.
On Jan. 22, Linares came home from work and cracked a beer.
Alli came home from work and turned on his music. It was loud. Linares could hear it. The neighbor on the other side of Linares could hear it. The bass sometimes rattled the pictures on her wall.
Linares let it go a couple of hours, hoping it would stop. When it didn't, he simmered as he walked to the fence.
What he shouted is up for debate. Alli says it was vulgar. Linares said it was a simple request.
Alli told Linares to meet him out front. The two men stood face to face in the dusk, a decade of bitterness boiling.
Linares says he stumbled. Alli says Linares lunged.
Either way, Alli struck with his tiger arm and Linares went down face first in a puddle.
Alli called 911 and told police he had punched out his neighbor. Police handcuffed Alli and filed charges.
Last week, the two men saw each other again in court.
• • •
Linares took the witness stand.
"I believe you testified that you've been there for nine years," Alli's defense attorney asked, "and this neighbor of yours, you've never confronted him before?"
"No, I haven't."
"Never said a word to him about it?"
"Never in nine years?"
"You've called the police how many times in those nine years?"
"How many times does several mean to you? Two or three?"
"Maybe more than that."
"Maybe hundreds of times?"
Same with another neighbor who was called to testify. She said Alli used to say hello, but that stopped. They lived within paces, saw each other often, but never talked. Just the music and the police calls and bad blood.
• • •
The jury had no trouble. Guilty. Alli admitted punching his neighbor. There were pictures.
Judge Huey thanked them. Then it was his turn.
"Love your neighbor as yourself," he said. "Jesus said that once a long time ago. To a lot of people's consternation or amazement, if you go read the context of when he said that, what was the question back when he asked that question? C'mon. Somebody in the courtroom? What did he say?
" 'Who is my neighbor?' That's what they asked him back.
"And then remember what he said next? It was the parable of the Good Samaritan.
"I can't make you get along. I'd like you to get along. I'd like to hear that sometime in nine years you all actually got together and had a dinner or a lunch. Not that that solves the problem.
"You know we've got a president who thinks that you can solve everything how? Over a beer. Just have a beer.
"He's not so wrong in that.
"I can't make you like each other. I wish I could.
"This didn't start over nothing. For whatever reason, you never knew. Like all these nations fighting with each other, they can't even remember why they started fighting and they've been fighting for 600 years or 800 years and nobody knows what started it.
"And we just repeat these things because we don't want to love our neighbor and we don't want to deal with things. It's unbelievable to hear the testimony that we've called the police so many times and we can't even pick up the phone and talk to each other.
"It's funny we all want to think we're so civilized and I think we're probably more uncivilized. We're getting there every day.
"That's not the way you settle things. I can't order you to get along. I think maybe it would help if just once, maybe you could meet. Doesn't sound like anybody's ever really spent any time with each other.
"I can't be out there. We can't police it. We can't put people in a bubble."
Huey sentenced Alli to 50 hours of community service and six months probation. But there was something else.
"I want you all to get together once a month, and you can do it however you want. Once a month, at a different house, you have a get-together . . . and just whatever, have a potluck, just do something. Kids have to go, too.
"You've got to show up. And who knows? Maybe we'll have a little United Nations. Maybe we'll start a better little part of the world in one place. . . .
"We all bleed red blood. We all live in America. So let's do our best."
Alli said the sentence shocked the hell out of him, but he'll go along. He said he is hosting the first of the six potlucks on Aug. 14. His attorney is going to bring brownies. He might play Indian music.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and staff writer Jared Leone contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8650. Michael Kruse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8751.