Money or lust or addictions often drive people to kill, but a manslaughter conviction handed down by a jury Monday was an unusual one: 71-year-old Trevor Dooley, the jury decided, shot and killed a young neighbor for "nothing."
Dooley, a school bus driver with no record of violence, now faces up to 30 years in prison for fatally shooting 41-year-old David James in front of James' 8-year-old daughter as they wrestled on the ground after arguing over a skateboarder.
The senselessness of the September 2010 tragedy has perplexed the community for two years and made national news.
"A man started an argument over nothing," said Assistant State Attorney Stephen Udagawa, "and killed somebody over it."
Jurors needed only about 90 minutes Monday to decide.
Dooley's wife, Patricia, married to him for more than 40 years, collapsed on a courtroom bench when she heard the verdict. They were both school bus drivers. They kept to themselves in the East Lake neighborhood of Valrico. She gardened. He played with a ham radio.
She had to take his gun out of his pocket when she laundered his jeans. Both had concealed weapons permits.
After the trial, Jamaican-born Dooley blamed racism for his conviction.
"Do you really think that if it was the other way around and the skin color would be different we would be here today?" he asked reporters. "We wouldn't."
Dooley's attorneys never suggested at trial that his skin color played a role. James was white. The jury of two women and four men was multiracial.
In convicting Dooley of manslaughter with a weapon, the jury rejected his claim of protection under Florida's "stand your ground" law.
The jurors had no problem with the law itself. It just didn't apply, one said. "The whole silly thing was over a skateboard," said jury foreman Walter Joss, "and it just escalated."
James died in front of his daughter, Danielle, who testified last week. After the verdict, her mother, Kanina James, said the conviction wouldn't mean that much to Danielle.
"The hardest thing is she will grow up without her father."
The girl, now 10 and a fifth-grader, is under the supervision of the Florida Department of Children and Families and is being raised by a paternal aunt in Minnesota.
Danielle was shooting hoops with her father that Sunday afternoon. Dooley came from his home across the street to complain about a 14-year-old skateboarder who had gotten James' permission to use the other side of the court.
An argument between Dooley and James got the attention of a married couple, Michael and Michelle Whitt, who were practicing serves on the adjacent tennis court.
The bizarre nature of the dispute, they said, caused them to stop and watch. It quickly took a lethal turn.
They testified last week they saw Dooley flip up his T-shirt, revealing a gun in his waistband, as he cursed James. They said Dooley then turned and headed home, but James spun him around and tried to grab the gun.
The skateboarder, Spencer Arthur, also watched, stunned. He didn't see Dooley flash a gun but said he saw him pull out the weapon as he spun around.
Danielle could hardly remember anything. She clutched a toy bunny named Monica as she testified. She has been in counseling for two years. She said she only remembered Dooley trying to go home.
"The only consistency in their testimony," defense attorney Ronald Tulin said to the jury, "was that Mr. Dooley walked away. How can you convict him of manslaughter if he's trying to walk away?"
Dooley, who is 5-feet-7 and weighs 160 pounds, told jurors he had to struggle with a man 28 years younger who was 6-1 and 240 pounds. He said he pulled out the gun only after James grabbed him by the throat and began yanking him to the ground. "I had no other choice,'' he said.
"It just didn't hold water with what the other witnesses said," said Joss, 57, of Tampa.
Though the witnesses offered differing testimonies, those accounts were more consistent with one another than Dooley's, he said. And those witnesses had no motivations other than to tell the truth, he said.
"They really had nothing to gain," Joss said. "They just seemed honest to me. It didn't match exactly 100 percent but, again, that's understandable. Three different people can see something three different ways."
Jurors didn't need a lot of time to reach a verdict, he said, because they were of one mind that the witnesses provided the most accurate testimony. He said there was no dissent.
Besides manslaughter, Dooley was convicted of improper exhibition of a weapon and open carrying of a firearm, both misdemeanors. He was allowed to remain free on bail until his sentencing by Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody on Jan. 10.
Times staff writer Jodie Tillman, news researcher Natalie Watson and Bay News 9 contributed to this report. John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]