DADE CITY — Roger Thompson, sullen and accused of attempted murder, pleaded no contest Wednesday morning in court.
Thompson, 19, of 38650 Barbara Lane, Dade City, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He would've gotten at least 25 years, and could've gotten life, if he had gone to trial and lost.
There were at least two witnesses who said with certainty that Thompson was the gunman in a shooting in November 2006 outside a vacant mobile home in Lacoochee.
There was the guy he shot, Chris Arnold, 25, who lived in spite of the five bullet holes in his upper body.
And there was another guy, Willie Bates, 26, who watched Thompson shoot Arnold, and said so to authorities.
Both were ready to testify against Thompson in a trial.
Back on Nov. 4, 2006, in the dark of the evening, not quite a dozen people were hanging out by the empty mobile home known locally as a spot where drugs could be bought. An argument about Arnold maybe stealing some drugs led to the shots that hit.
Reading the depositions in this case is like peering through a window into the often violent drug and gun world of Lacoochee, or 'Coochee, as the kids sometimes call it, the rural, isolated outpost in northeast Pasco County where it seems like everybody's somebody's cousin and where people go by nicknames like Po-Boy and Gooch.
Here, for instance, is Arnold in his deposition eight months after he got shot:
"I heard a gun sound like it clicked, like he cocked it back or somethin', like the hammer, and I turned back around, and I seen it, the fire comin' out of the barrel of the gun."
Thompson, depending on which witness one believes, was anywhere from 2 to 8 feet from Arnold when he pulled the trigger of his .380 pistol.
They thought Arnold was dead or at least on the way to being dead.
Arnold said in his deposition that his vision started to get blurry and that his body started to get "heavy."
"I couldn't keep my balance, so I fell," he said. "I fell on my stomach, and I tried to get up a couple times, took a couple of crawls, crawling, trying to get towards gettin' up, and I felt like I wasn't gonna be capable of exactly gettin' up …"
He lived mainly because Bates had dropped his phone in the commotion after the shooting and returned to the scene to get it.
"Willie, man," Bates heard Arnold say, "don't leave me like this."
"It was like a ghost came out," Bates said in his deposition.
Arnold was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. He spent a month in intensive care.
One of the bullets sliced his colon. His arm locks up on him. His back hurts. He can't lift heavy things. He gets headaches. He can't sleep. He has nightmares.
Since his deposition a year-and-a-half ago, Arnold has been arrested four times, on charges of grand theft auto, domestic battery and violating a domestic violence injunction on two separate occasions.
On Wednesday in court, Thompson, the shooter, shuffled in, wearing a baggy orange and white jail jumpsuit. He answered Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa's procedural questions with shakes of his head or low, monosyllabic grunts. He was fingerprinted and led out of the courtroom.
Some family members sitting in the second and third rows of the otherwise empty courtroom told him they loved him. He smiled small and mumbled something back. It sounded like he said he loved them too.
Michael Kruse can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6244.