TAMPA — Days before gunning down a stranger in a Sumter County gas station, David Harris Dunaway thought he was a "ninja warrior" directed by God, court records state.
But for two decades after his successful insanity plea, he lived a life that drew little notice. After his 1997 release from a psychiatric hospital, he married, helped home-school his children, attended church services and earned a living by selling collectibles with his wife.
"I just wanted to have a normal life," he said, "and that's what I did for many years."
Dunaway pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Tampa to possession of a firearm — illegal for someone with his medical history. Magistrate Judge Anthony Porcelli accepted the plea. A sentencing date has not been set.
The first half of Tuesday's hearing centered on the question of whether the Hawthorne man is a danger to the public. Porcelli denied a second request for bail.
"My concern is the combination of firearms and controlled substances," the judge said.
When arrested east of Gainesville in December, Dunaway had three dozen guns and 4,629 rounds of ammunition in his van, deputies reported. But the government's evidence also includes a recorded phone call in which he acknowledges receipt of heroin in exchange for guns.
Though guns and drugs are frequent bedfellows in criminal proceedings, the association poses a particular problem for Dunaway.
In a court document filed last week, federal prosecutor Carlton Gammons quoted a 1994 doctor's report warning that any drug abuse "will likely lead to another acute psychotic episode."
Dunaway told the judge Tuesday that his sole psychotic episode lasted two weeks "and then I was back like I am now." In court, he was an articulate man with a gentle voice who responded calmly to questions.
He said he currently takes only blood pressure medicine.
His wife of 15 years, Sheri Dunaway, said he told her of his past when they began dating. She said she has seen no sign of psychosis.
"If I had, I wouldn't be there with my children," she said.
Dunaway said he was having kidney stone pain when offered heroin. He said he tried to give it back after deciding it looked like crushed-up oxycodone. He said the man who traded the drug was "pushy."
"Two times, the police were called to the flea market because of his behavior," he said. "The guy's pretty bizarre."
Dunaway spent five years in custody, much of it in the state mental hospital in Chattahoochee, for the 1992 death of trucker Leonard Brower at a Wildwood gas station.
The defendant is a son of the late Vic Dunaway, a widely followed Florida fisherman who made a career writing about the outdoors before he died in 2012. The elder Dunaway collected guns, which wound up with the son, who said he intended to sell them at a flea market.
Though the gun charge is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison, defense attorney Michael Maddux predicted a sentencing guideline range of six months to two years and expressed hope that Dunaway could be placed on house arrest.
Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.