TAMPA — When jurors considered the manslaughter case of Trevor Dooley nearly six years ago, they were told that Florida's stand your ground law could not apply because he had lifted his shirt and showed a gun before getting into a violent struggle with another man.
"That's a crime," the prosecutor told the jury. "It's called improper exhibition of a weapon, And the minute he did that, he's not entitled to that stand your ground."
The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes in November 2012. It found Dooley guilty in the fatal shooting of David James.
But now, the prosecutor's words and a similarly worded set of jury instructions are at the center of Dooley's latest effort to secure a new trial, which played out Tuesday morning before a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
His attorney, Bill Ponall, says the jury was incorrectly instructed, and that the wording negated Dooley's sole defense. Ponall asked the judges to grant a new trial.
Dooley, 77, was not required to attend the 45-minute oral arguments. He remains free on an appellate bond, with his travels limited to Hernando County, where he now lives.
The stand your ground law says that when faced with a violent confrontation, a person has no duty to retreat and can use deadly force if in fear of great bodily harm or death.
Dooley's argument centers on differences in the wording of two statutes related to stand your ground, as they existed in 2010.
Back then, the law on which Dooley relies said simply that person had no duty to retreat. But a separate law added certain conditions, including that the person claiming the defense could not have been engaged in unlawful activity at the time.
Ponall argued that the jury instruction was based only on the latter statute.
The first law was amended in 2014 to make both consistent.
Brandon Christian, a lawyer for the state attorney general's office, argued that jurors in Dooley's trial were properly instructed on both laws. He said Dooley had a concealed weapons permit and denied during the trial that he committed a crime by showing the gun.
There is no timetable for when the judges will issue a decision.
The September 2010 fatal shooting occurred after Dooley argued with James about a skateboarder on their Valrico neighborhood basketball court.
James was shooting hoops with his 8-year-old daughter. He gave a 14-year-old skateboarder permission to also use the court, which caught the attention of Dooley, who lived across the street. Dooley admonished the teen, saying it was against the rules to skate there.
James argued with him. The men exchanged words. Dooley flipped up his shirt to reveal the gun, then began to walk away.
James followed from behind and grabbed Dooley. A scuffle began. Dooley drew his gun and James tried to grab it. Dooley then shot James.
In 2014, Dooley began serving an eight-year prison sentence. He was released on appellate bail in 2016.