TAMPA — If anyone meets the definition of Florida's "stand your ground" law, it's the father who died on a Valrico basketball court in a struggle over a gun, not Trevor Dooley, the then 69-year-old neighbor who says he fired out of fear for his life, the State Attorney's Office said in written arguments Thursday.
"The evidence proved that if anyone had the right to stand their ground, it was David James, the victim," the state argued.
Prosecutors have offered three witnesses who refute Dooley's version of the shooting. Those witnesses, a Tampa defense attorney said Thursday, will be "a tremendous hurdle" for Dooley's lawyers to get over. Another attorney said Dooley will have a hard time presenting any kind of self-defense case, assuming the witnesses are credible.
The arguments were in response to a defense motion to dismiss a manslaughter charge against Dooley, now 71, based on the "stand your ground" law. It's the same law being invoked in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford by George Zimmerman — a case with many similarities. There, lawyers also dispute which one was actually standing his ground.
Dooley admits to shooting his neighbor, David James, 41, after they argued over a skateboarder using their community basketball court. He claims he had no choice, that James had a hand around his throat. "He was killing me," Dooley testified in February. "My finger was on the trigger. I shot."
But witnesses the prosecution cited in Thursday's arguments say otherwise. They have testified that Dooley first flashed a gun at James, then pulled it from his pants when James stepped toward him. They said they didn't see James choke Dooley. They said James was shot while trying to wrestle the gun away.
Those witnesses do not include James' daughter, who was just 8 years old when she saw her father shot. Danielle James, now 10, says she remembers little about the shooting. She says she remembers Dooley saying he didn't want to fight. She doesn't remember seeing a gun, or hearing threats. What she remembers most was a gunshot.
The three witnesses who said they clearly remembered the shooting were the 14-year-old skateboarder who Dooley tried to shoo from the courts, and a married couple playing tennis nearby. None of those witnesses said they knew either man before that day.
All three say Dooley had turned his back to James after arguing, apparently headed home. But the tennis couple said Dooley had first shouted an obscenity and flashed a gun in his waistband. All three said they saw Dooley turn and pull out the gun as James stepped toward him. They said James then reached for the gun as the two toppled to the ground.
The state says those actions by Dooley constitute aggravated battery, or, at the least, improper exhibition of a weapon, which would negate a "stand your ground" defense.
Tampa defense attorney Lyann Goudie predicted the state's arguments make it unlikely that a judge will rule in Dooley's favor and throw out the case. Tampa attorney Rick Terrana went further, saying that, based on his reading of the arguments, Dooley will be hard-pressed to argue self-defense of any kind.
"I'm a proponent of the stand your ground law," said Terrana. "The problem is that everyone wants to use it nowadays."
Dooley's defense team submitted its written arguments two weeks ago. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody has scheduled a hearing on its motion for dismissal on May 17.
One local attorney refused to predict an outcome. Grady Irvin Jr. said such cases "are so factually intense that it's unfair to comment on a potential outcome when you're not in the judge's position."
He agreed the three witnesses pose a huge defense challenge, "no matter what the charge is. That's why these cases are so tough for judges to deal with. But Moody is a very well-respected judge. I'm confident her ruling will be the right one."
John Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.