NEW PORT RICHEY — Torrence Antoine Bates went to an apartment on Nov. 9, 2007, looking for crack cocaine. What was in dispute was whether he was there to buy it or steal it, and whether the shoot-out that erupted and killed 22-year-old Jose Godineaux was an accident, self-defense or murder.
A 12-member jury deliberated about an hour and a half Tuesday evening and found Bates, 21, guilty of second-degree murder.
The state had charged him with first-degree felony murder, which meant it did not have to prove the killing was premeditated, only that Bates killed Godineaux while committing a violent felony — in this case, robbery.
Bates, who has no prior record, will be sentenced Feb. 5. He faces a minimum of 25 years in prison and maximum of life.
He took the stand in the trial, telling jurors he was homeless and looking to buy drugs when he went to an apartment on St. James Drive, off Grand Boulevard. He knew Godineaux, who went by "Pinky," to be a drug dealer living there. Bates was carrying a gun, as he said he always did, for protection. It had a single bullet inside.
Bates said that when Godineaux's girlfriend let him in, the apartment was dark. But he saw someone get out of bed and flash a gun. Bates said he then pulled his gun, and when his hand was hit by Godineaux's bullet, his own pistol went off.
Godineaux was struck in the head and died the next morning.
Prosecutors called Godineaux's then girlfriend to testify, and she gave a contradictory account.
Jessie Rooney testified that Bates barged into the apartment with his gun already pulled.
"She ran to the back of the house, she was yelling 'gun, gun, gun!' She was letting Jose know what was going on," Assistant State Attorney Chris Labruzzo told jurors.
Bates must have fired first, Labruzzo argued, because his gun was hit by lead fragments that rendered it inoperable. He couldn't have fired back.
But John White, Bates' attorney, questioned how Godineaux, mortally wounded by a bullet to the head, could have returned fire.
"It just doesn't seem in the realm of possibility," White said. "What had to have happened, in my judgment, is that those two guns had to go off at essentially, identically the same point in time."
Jurors were allowed to consider lesser charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. If they decided that Bates had acted in self-defense, or that the killing was justifiable or accidental, he would have been found not guilty.
"What Mr. Bates did that night was by no means an accident," Labruzzo argued. "He was there to get drugs, and in fact he armed himself with a gun."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.