TAMPA — The slaying of a father in front of his 8-year-old daughter in 2010 was intentional, 71-year-old Trevor Dooley testified Thursday. He said he shot the father during an argument over a skateboarder using the neighborhood basketball court. The pistol's muzzle was against the man's chest when he fired.
"It was no accident."
But Dooley said his neighbor, David James, 41, had one hand wrapped around his throat, the other grabbing for the gun as they wrestled on the ground. Dooley said he was about to pass out.
"He was killing me. He was about to take the gun from me. What was he going to do with the gun when he got it?
"My finger was on the trigger. I shot."
Dooley's surprise testimony, his first public statements in two years, came at a Thursday court hearing at which his attorney sought dismissal of a manslaughter charge based on Florida's Stand Your Ground law. The law allows people to use deadly force to save their own lives.
Three other witnesses to the September 2010 shooting in Valrico — including a 14-year-old skateboarder whom Dooley had tried to shoo away — describe Dooley as the aggressor. They have previously testified that Dooley cursed James and flashed a gun.
But those contradicting witnesses do not include Danielle James, then 8, who was shooting hoops with her father when the armed neighbor crossed the street that day.
In 15 minutes of testimony Thursday morning, in a room apart from Dooley, Danielle James said she heard Dooley say, "I don't want to get into a fight." She also said she never saw him flash or pull a gun.
Danielle, now 10, testified calmly in a clear voice. She wore a red dress. She didn't cry. She said she knew how to tell the truth. Danielle said she simply heard a gunshot as the men wrestled on the ground.
Dooley watched her on a video screen in another courtroom. Lawyers said she was too afraid of him to testify in his presence.
Dooley testified afterward for almost two hours, speaking with a soft Jamaican accent. He said he routinely carried a holstered .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol in his jeans day and night, even leaving the gun in the pocket when he hung his pants up before going to bed. In his other pocket, he always carried his concealed weapons permit.
That Sunday, he said, he had called from his driveway to a skateboarder on the Twin Lakes neighborhood basketball court. He told the boy to quit skating. He said the boy held a hand to his head, indicating he couldn't hear him. So he crossed the street to the park, taking his pistol, fully loaded with a round in the chamber.
At that point, Dooley said, James stopped playing basketball and said, "Show me the sign that says he can't skate."
Dooley said James kept demanding to see the sign. "He was getting red in the face. I didn't have a chance to get a word in."
Dooley said he raised his palms up and said, "I'm not here to fight you." Then he said he told James, "Screw this," and started walking home.
"Mr. James took four or five steps. He said, 'What did you say to me?' Don't walk away from me. I'm not done with you yet.'"
That was when he put his hand on his gun in his pocket, he testified. He said he pulled the gun out as James spun him around.
"He put his left hand around my neck. He said, 'How dare you pull a gun on me?' "
The two struggled and landed together on the ground, James straddling Dooley.
"I couldn't talk, I couldn't even see him," Dooley said. "I wanted to tell him, 'You're killing me. You're choking me to death.' "
In previous testimony, neighbor Michael Scott Whitt had said he was practicing tennis serves nearby with his wife, Michelle, when the trouble started.
They testified that Dooley briefly went into his garage, then started across the street with a dark object sticking out of his waistband. They said James threw his hands up and said, "Oh, come on."
Dooley and James argued over letting the boy skate until Dooley lifted his shirt and said, "F--- you," the Whitts testified.
They said Dooley turned and started home, but James caught up with him. "Mr. James said, 'Don't flash a weapon,' something like that," Michelle Whitt testified.
On Thursday, prosecutor Stephen Udagawa asked Dooley, "You knew you could kill him, right?"
"You felt invincible, didn't you?"
"Mr. James tried to defend himself, didn't he?"
"Is clamping his hand around my neck defending himself?"
The hearing before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody continues today.
Reach John Barry at [email protected] or (813) 226-3383.