TAMPA — The man known to friends as Uncle Ugly just wanted to be left alone.
Sipping beer at a Riverview bar one night in August, the former pro wrestler ignored another patron's attempt to strike up a conversation. The patron, a convicted killer released from prison, took the rebuke as a grave insult, prosecutors say.
A few hours later, Uncle Ugly was dead.
And so on Wednesday, Harry Brian Taylor, 38, once again sat in a courtroom on trial for murder, this time accused of running down John Michael Meek, a 52-year-old motorcyclist known colloquially as Uncle Ugly, after their Aug. 29 confrontation at James' Place on U.S. 301.
Several witnesses testified that Taylor threatened to go after Meek because he felt disrespected. Prosecutors say Taylor followed Meek's motorcycle when the bar closed and struck him with his van.
For that, Taylor faces a charge of second-degree murder, not an unfamiliar scenario. He was previously sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing a Marion County man with a butcher knife in a 1988 robbery.
Yet Taylor was freed because of good behavior and prison overcrowding after serving only 12 years — an impossibility under current law — and authorities believe he killed again.
That August night, Taylor was drinking beer and playing pool when he noticed Meek, dressed in a black leather vest and a bandana, sitting at the bar. "The minute he saw that, it agitated him," said Assistant State Attorney Kim Seace.
When Meek ignored him, Taylor became even more enraged, Seace said.
"He looked at me and said, 'I'm going to kill him,' " a patron at the bar, Heather Lockwood, testified. "He was drinking — I didn't think he was serious."
Other patrons recalled that Taylor spoke of wanting to "run over" Meek. "Less than five minutes later, less than a mile from the bar, the defendant did exactly what he said he was going to do," Seace told jurors.
At 3:07 a.m. Aug. 29, a motorist found Meek on Krycul Avenue and called 911. Five minutes later, Taylor called his girlfriend, Lisa Campbell, and said he had been following Meek and caused him to start to lose control of his Harley-Davidson, Campbell testified.
But Campbell said Taylor told her he did not hit Meek.
"I believe him," she said. "He's a good person, and I don't believe he'd ever do anything like that."
Seace acknowledged that the imposing Meek, a Gibsonton resident who once wrestled professionally as "Iron Mike" Steel, was driving his motorcycle under the influence of alcohol and cocaine. But she said that's not why he crashed and died.
Taylor's attorneys offered little hint of a possible defense but implored jurors to be skeptical of witnesses, some of whom acknowledged they had been drinking ravenously that August night. Taylor could get a life sentence if convicted.
Thomas Kaplan can be reached at (813) 226-3404 or firstname.lastname@example.org.