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Witnesses dispute Trevor Dooley's 'Stand Your Ground' claim in Valrico shooting

TAMPA — Trevor Dooley's attorney portrayed him Wednesday as a 69-year-old man with fused discs in his neck who feared for his life when set upon by his 41-year-old neighbor, six inches taller and 70 pounds heavier.

Dooley is protected by Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, his attorney argued, firing in self-defense when the most mundane of neighbor disputes turned violent.

It began on a Sunday afternoon, Sept. 26, 2010, beside a Valrico basketball court when Dooley's neighbor, David James, tried to prevent him from shooing away a skateboarder. It ended with James taking a bullet through his heart in front of his 8-year-old daughter.

In a day of anguished testimony, eyewitnesses who included the 14-year-old skateboarder consistently described Dooley as the aggressor who cursed his neighbor and flashed a pistol before a fatal struggle for the gun.

The testimony offered a preview of Dooley's trial on a first-degree manslaughter charge scheduled for January if a judge doesn't dismiss the case based on his Stand Your Ground defense.

In a 911 call played Wednesday for Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, the skateboarder blamed himself. "It was my fault," Spencer Arthur cried to a dispatcher. "He (Dooley) got mad at me because I was skateboarding. I didn't know what the rules are. I don't live there."

But testimony showed that the boy — besides James' stunned 8-year-old daughter — was the least confrontational people on the basketball court that day.

Arthur, now 15, said he was visiting friends in the Twin Lakes neighborhood. He took his skateboard to the park and asked permission to practice trick moves from James, who was shooting hoops with his daughter. The only others in the park were a couple playing tennis.

But the boy then heard a voice from across the street. It was Dooley, outside his garage, shouting that he should get off the court, that there was a no-skateboarding sign. The boy stopped.

He heard James call out to Dooley, "Show me the sign."

Michael Scott Whitt, practicing tennis serves nearby with his wife, Michelle, stopped to watch.

They testified that Dooley briefly went into his garage, then started across the street with a dark object sticking out of his waistband. They said James threw his hands up and said, "Oh, come on."

Dooley and James argued over letting the boy skate until Dooley lifted his shirt and said, "F--- you," the Whitts testified.

They said Dooley turned and started home, but James caught up with him. "Mr. James said, 'Don't flash a weapon,' something like that," Michelle Whitt testified.

Then, she said, Dooley pulled out the gun and James grabbed his hand. The men struggled, they fell to the ground, and James ended up on his knees as Dooley lay on his side. They still wrestled for the gun.

The gun fired.

"Mr. James looked up at us," Michelle Whitt testified. "He said, 'Call 911. I've been shot.' Then he fell over."

He was shot through the heart. A medical examiner said he probably died within seconds.

Michael Whitt called 911 at the same time the boy did. On his call, Whitt cried out, "Oh my God. All this over a skateboard."

Dooley's attorney, Ronald Tulin, repeatedly got the Whitts to describe the difference in size and age between the men. He had them restate their testimony that Dooley was headed back to his house before the fight.

But when questioned by prosecutor Stephen Udagawa, the witnesses persisted in labeling Dooley the aggressor.

They said James never tried to punch or choke Dooley. They said he only went for the gun. "There were no threats, no fists," Michelle Whitt said.

She stopped looking after the shot. All she could think to do, she said, was run to James' little girl, standing nearby.

By late afternoon, testimony was incomplete. Judge Moody said the hearing will continue on Jan. 12. It's not known whether Dooley will testify.

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3383.

Witnesses dispute Trevor Dooley's 'Stand Your Ground' claim in Valrico shooting 12/14/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 8:09pm]
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