TAMPA — "I'm so tired of being filled with hate," Marvin Daniels said outside the courtroom where two teenagers were tried Tuesday on charges of murdering his son. "People say, 'I hate this person, I hate that person.' They have no idea what hate is."
It has been like this for more than a year. Chris Daniels, 18, was found the night of Jan. 16, 2012, prone and bleeding in a ditch near a Little League baseball diamond east of Thonotosassa. A woman who lived nearby prayed over him in the dark while waiting for an ambulance. He died nine days later at Tampa General Hospital.
The anger was beginning then, during those first hospital visits, when Marvin Daniels saw the skin was missing — all gone — from his son's toes and the tops of his feet. The anger grew when the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office arrested Thonotosassa brothers Bailey Castle, now 18, and Roger Castle III, 19, saying they had dragged Chris Daniels alongside a moving truck.
Criminal trials can be a climactic episode of clarity. They are just as often a duty that victims or survivors are too tired to perform, another brightly lit room nobody wants to sit in.
As testimony began Tuesday in the Castles' trial in Hillsborough Circuit Court — both are charged with first-degree murder and robbery, along with other offenses — the defendants' presence was hard for Marvin Daniels to bear.
"This has never been about revenge or anything. It's always been about justice," said Marvin Daniels, a heavyset 47-year-old with a graying goatee. "But it's very hard for me to sit in there."
Fury rarely exists in a vacuum. Ask Carla Castle, 37, who watched Tuesday from the gallery as her sons sat at the defense table, freshly shaved and looking nervous in striped dress shirts. Roger Castle, who police say drove a red pickup down hundreds of feet of rough roadway while Chris Daniels hung from his door, sported a cowlick.
"They're innocent," she said when approached by a reporter. "Write that."
Thonotosassa, in northeastern Hillsborough, is home to 13,000 people, according to the most recent census figures. It's not an easy place for families divided by a gruesome death to avoid each other. Over the year that passed between the incident and the Castles' arrest, Marvin Daniels said, "We had to see these kids every day."
The Daniels and Castle families have traded accusations of harassment in the runup to the trial. Both sides confirm a confrontation between Carla Castle and Amy Daniels, Chris' stepmother, in the parking lot of the East Thonotosassa Baptist Church.
"I seen her at the church, and I pulled in and said, 'Listen, y'all need to stop harassing my family,' " Carla Castle said. "I told her to stop talking about my kids. I think any mother would have done the same."
She added: "All I know is, we've lived in hell for two years. … I'm tired of lies."
The truth did not reveal itself Tuesday.
Both sides said during opening statements that the incident involved a botched drug deal at Antioch Park. Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Barbara Coleman said Roger Castle "gunned" the truck he was driving when Chris Daniels reached in the window with a sack of marijuana and that Daniels clung to the door until he fell.
Lyann Goudie, Roger Castle's defense attorney, said Roger was not driving the truck, which belonged to a 17-year-old, Kyle Register, who is now one of the state's primary witnesses. Register is also charged with robbery in connection with the incident.
Register and a fourth witness, Bailey Castle's girlfriend at the time, say they were in the truck when Chris Daniels was killed and that Roger Castle was driving. But they have made conflicting statements in earlier interviews with law enforcement.
As he watched the parsing of facts, examination and cross-examination, Marvin Daniels said his frustration began to turn toward the process itself.
"I don't understand," he said during a recess. "The justice system is just what defendants' attorneys are allowed to get away with and what they're allowed to say."
The trial continues today.
Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.