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Teenager guilty of attempted murder

A 17-year-old Dade City resident was convicted of attempted first-degree murder Wednesday for shooting a 30-year-old man outside a Lacoochee apartment complex.

The attorney for Johnny McPhail Jr. had contended that McPhail acted in self-defense in November when he shot James Brown, who also was carrying a gun. Witnesses also said that two days before the shooting, Brown had threatened McPhail with a shotgun and fired over the youth's head after arguing at a Lacoochee bar.

However, after deliberating 2{ hours, the jury, comprised of four women and two men, found McPhail guilty.

Ramona Story, McPhail's 22-year-old girlfriend and the mother of his 10-month-old son, said the decision was unfair.

"I don't think it's right," she said. "He was just trying to defend himself."

McPhail was accused of shooting Brown five times with a handgun Nov. 3 outside Cypress Manor Apartments in Lacoochee. Three of the shots struck Brown in the upper back and shoulders while two others hit him in the lower back, according to medical expert witnesses.

Prosecutor Matt Destry argued that the crime was a premeditated attack, but public defender Laurie Chane contended it was self-defense.

"Mr. Brown had this gun," she said and picked up the 12-gauge, pump-action, sawed-off shotgun that Brown was carrying the night of the shooting. "And if Johnny turned around, Johnny would have gotten shot."

Chane asked the jury to take several factors into account before making a decision:

His age. He was 16 at the time of the shooting, but was being tried as an adult.

His willingness. He was arrested without incident and cooperated with detectives from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. "Johnny was willing to do whatever it took to clear his name," she said.

Brown's credibility. Brown was a convicted felon whose stories to police about the shooting were inconsistent. "Past his name," Chane said of Brown's testimony, "there wasn't an honest word coming out of that man's mouth."

Prosecutor Destry told jurors not to let sympathy for McPhail cloud their judgment.

"It has no place in your deliberations. It has no place in your verdict," he said.

He also said Brown's reputation makes no difference.

"It matters not who Mr. McPhail's victim was," he said. "The law exists to protect us all."

Story felt differently. With tears running down her face, she said all she wanted was for McPhail to come home.

"I love him so much," she said. "I just want for him to be with me and my baby."