This is a day to feel good about the jury system.
The jury in Randy Puryear's murder trial could have caved in to the conflicting testimony and let the Tampa dentist go.
The jurors could have said the shooting of Jemale Wells was a careless accident, a manslaughter.
They could have been affected by the color of the shooter _ who is white _ and the man he killed _ who was black.
None of these things happened. Instead the jurors convicted Puryear of the maximum charge he faced, second-degree murder.
The case was far from easy. Each side had its own version of events.
The defense brought in high-priced experts to raise doubts about the physical evidence. It wasn't even clear who was holding the gun when it went off that Sunday two years ago.
The jury paid no mind. It zeroed in on one of the few undisputed facts in the case, that it was Puryear who brought the .357-caliber Magnum to the neighborhood dispute. No matter who started what, if Puryear hadn't appeared with the gun, Wells would not have been killed.
Puryear's own miserable performance counted.
He magically forgot hearing the gun go off. He might have called Wells names, he said. If he did, and one of the names happened to be "n-----," all he meant by it was a dirty, unkempt person, Puryear said.
Even a Class A bigot would have trouble swallowing that explanation.
A day later, it all seemed so obvious.
Yet I have to say this: The verdict surprised me. I had expected the worst, that the conflicts in the evidence and the unconscious biases of the all-white jury would probably lead to an acquittal.
The day after the verdict, the prosecutor insisted he had never worried about this possibility. You didn't have to be "black, Asian or Hispanic," Curt Allen said, "to be offended by this conduct."
I'm not sure I entirely believe him _ particularly because the state was at first so unsure of this case it charged Puryear only with manslaughter.
Still, it's a pleasure to be wrong.
The verdict in this case signals a step forward in race relations in Tampa, a small step to some people, perhaps, but a step nonetheless. White people earned a little trust with this verdict _ trust that we can judge a tragedy affecting a black man and his family as we would judge it if it happened to us.
The other color that doesn't count, at least in this case, is the color of money. A lot of us think there are two kinds of justice, one for those with money, another for those without. Puryear must have thought he was buying the first kind. But he might as well have balled up the dollar bills and tossed them out the window.
The verdict also sends a message about guns. The jurors had no patience for Puryear's cowboy conduct. A man may be well within his rights to own a weapon, they seemed to say, but he doesn't get with it a blank check on his behavior.
Second-degree murder is defined in the law as an act "imminently dangerous" to another person, an act that shows "a depraved mind."
Depraved, in the dictionary, is defined as morally bad.
I'm not sure I'd use those words to describe Randy Puryear.
He seemed instead to be a profoundly angry man whose rage finally brought him down. He once bragged that because he was a doctor, he could get away with murder.
He never calculated the power of a jury, and just how much it could muck things up for him.
_ You can reach Mary Jo Melone at mjmelonesptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.