NEW PORT RICHEY — It was 2:10 a.m., and the Brass Flamingo had just closed on Dec. 19, 2013. Patrons spilled out the doors of the strip club on U.S. 19 in Port Richey, ambling across a small patio and parking lot.
Then two men started throwing punches, authorities said. A third person intervened to break up the fight. The ordeal was over in seconds.
That's when shots rang out.
Four bullets were fired. One injured the bystander who tried to intervene. Three struck and killed Dave Avant, 27, of Clearwater, one of the men involved in the skirmish.
Behind the trigger was Taurezs Bullock, 31, of Port Richey who on July 13 was found guilty of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder for his actions that night. Circuit Judge Mary Handsel sentenced Bullock, who was arrested in upstate New York in August 2014, to life in prison with an additional 30 years, the maximum for each charge.
The conviction lifted a heavy weight off Avant's family, said Ashley Weber, his fiancee and mother of their four children.
"It's not going to bring Dave back, but now he can rest peacefully because the person that did this to him is paying for what he did," Weber said.
During the weeklong trial, attorneys argued whether the shooting was justified. Defense attorney Jorge Chalela argued it was necessary to protect Bullock's friend, who had been involved in the short fight outside the Brass Flamingo.
Chalela pointed to testimony from witnesses, including Bullock, that he said showed the fight was not a spur of the moment scuffle, but rather the product of a night's worth of threatening looks and whispers of "Let's get him."
However, the state said the decision to start shooting was Bullock's alone.
"He didn't do it in self-defense," said Assistant State Attorney Chris LaBruzzo. "He did it because he wanted to."
The state maintained that there was no imminent danger when Bullock started firing — that the fight was over. LaBruzzo also argued that the threatening looks in the club leading up to the shooting were insubstantial, as video evidence showed the person "mean mugging" Bullock was not anyone involved in the fight.
Moreover, LaBruzzo said, given the circumstances, a reasonable person would have sought help elsewhere before turning to violence.
"Mr. Bullock had plenty of options," LaBruzzo said. "The only one he wanted to use was a .380 handgun."
The jury deliberated for about an hour before returning with its verdict. After the conviction, LaBruzzo read a letter written by Avant's 11-year-old son, D.J., a message to Bullock that said despite the conviction, the family lost something that can never be replaced.
"I just want my dad to come home," the letter stated. "He was all of our best friend, we had so much fun with him. Now we spend Father's Day and Christmas and stuff at his grave."
Weber said she now hopes to spend more time remembering the good times she had with Avant. That instead of court dates and reminders of his sudden death, she and her boys can think about Avant as the person he really was: the volunteer football coach, the life of the party and the glue that held the family together.
"We'll never be whole again without him," Weber said. "But moving forward we're all going to stick together because that's what he'd want us to."
Contact Chris Bowling at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (813) 435-7308.