DADE CITY — A dispute over a stolen PlayStation 3 and other property ultimately cost Doug Abrams his life for this reason:
"I'm kind of a good judge of character," Edward Stoddard, the man accused of killing Abrams in April 2008, testified Wednesday. "I just came to the conclusion that he was the one who broke into my house, so I swung on him."
That confrontation was followed a couple weeks later by another that ended with Abrams getting shot. Stoddard was charged with first-degree murder.
A jury on Wednesday evening found the 30-year-old guilty of the lesser crime of second-degree murder after hearing his version of the incident, in which he claimed self-defense. He said Abrams, 26, pointed a pistol at him and Stoddard had to wrestle it away.
But several witnesses for the state were consistent in the story that Stoddard had pulled the gun and fired three times at Abrams.
Testifying in his own defense Wednesday, Stoddard put on no airs for jurors, offering breathless rambling answers, sometimes addressing the prosecutor as "dog" and frequently dropping expletives into his testimony.
"I can cuss, right? I'm more comfortable that way," he said. Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa finally insisted he clean up his language.
Stoddard said he was a small-time drug dealer who drove a nice truck and was fixing up his mobile home. He said he was in jail in Hillsborough County in March of 2008 when someone stole electronics, DVD movies and video games from his mobile home on Mangrove Drive in the Angus Valley area of Wesley Chapel.
Convinced by rumors in the neighborhood that Abrams was the thief, Stoddard refused to let the matter drop.
When he confronted Abrams in the street the first time, he said, Abrams ran to his vehicle and grabbed a pistol, flashed it and then shoved it into his waistband.
Stoddard said he was stunned and that Abrams said: "'What's up now? What do you want to do now?' And I was like, 'Damn, dog, it's like that?'
"Now he pulled a gun on me. That's a little different than a fist fight."
He told Abrams he wanted to go get his own gun. The moment defused, Stoddard said, but tension between the two men remained.
On the afternoon of April 23, 2008, Stoddard saw Abrams and a friend pull into a neighbor's yard. Stoddard walked up and again asked Abrams about his property.
Abrams pulled a gun, and Stoddard reached for it, he said.
"I just lunged, and I grabbed his arm. I knew I could take him because I'm way bigger than he is."
He said Abrams fired, possibly hitting an air compressor, because he heard a sudden hissing sound.
Then, Stoddard said, he wrestled the gun away and took a few steps backward, telling Abrams to "chill."
"When he came toward me, I shot him one time in the chest. I felt at that point that I needed to do that," Stoddard testified. "He stumbles and falls down, then gets back up. I shoot him again. I ain't no perfect shot. I just shoot him.
"I don't want to kill this dude. I just want to relieve the situation."
At that point, Stoddard said, he ran back to his own house and grabbed his keys and a bag of marijuana. He wanted to go somewhere and smoke it to calm down. He went to a friend's home in Dade City and learned on the news the next day that Abrams, 26, had died.
He said he wanted to turn himself in but panicked.
"I ain't got the best reputation either. I've been in Pasco 30 years. I've been in trouble a few times. I've sold drugs," he said.
Both he and Abrams had lengthy arrest records.
Thirteen days after the killing, Stoddard was arrested by a Pasco sheriff's SWAT team.
Under cross-examination, Stoddard, without hesitation, repeated to Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia that he shot Abrams in the chest because he believed Abrams had robbed him.
"A man is dead now because of rumors?" Garcia asked.
"A man is dead because he pulled a gun and shot at me. I had a future," Stoddard said.
His future now is a likely to be a lifetime in prison. He will be sentenced Jan. 28.
Doug Abrams Sr. said he was happy with verdict but wished Stoddard could receive a death sentence.
He described his son as a "real caring guy" who knew his share of trouble but always faced the music.
And his son, Abrams Sr. said, didn't steal anything from Stoddard's house.
As he walked away, he turned back with tears in his eyes and told a reporter: "Mention how much me and his mama loved him."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.