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Man accused of Tampa slaying admits shooting 18-year-old in 'stand your ground' hearing

Memorials held for murder victim Lyfe Coleman included a candelight event in October 2015 at the spot where the Tampa teen was shot dead 10 months earlier. [Times file]
Memorials held for murder victim Lyfe Coleman included a candelight event in October 2015 at the spot where the Tampa teen was shot dead 10 months earlier. [Times file]
Published Dec. 18, 2017

TAMPA — Reginald Bowman shot Lyfe Coleman. He admitted it in court Monday.

Standing before a microphone and gesturing with shackled hands, Bowman described a meeting in the 18-year-old's front yard about the sale of a gun. He said there was a dispute over the price, a struggle for the weapon and two gunshots.

"It happened so fast," he said. "I was in fear for my life."

Bowman, who's charged with second-degree murder in Coleman's death — one of several homicides of young black men that vexed the city in 2015 — testified in an effort to obtain immunity from prosecution under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

Though he admitted shooting Coleman, he claimed he did it in self-defense.

The move makes Bowman, 22, the latest in a series of criminal defendants who have invoked the controversial law since the state Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott tweaked it earlier this year.

The "stand your ground" law says a person faced with a violent confrontation has no duty to retreat and can use deadly force if he or she fears great bodily harm or death. In June, the law was changed to place the burden of proof for such claims on prosecutors.

Bowman spoke softly, telling and retelling his version of what happened the night Coleman was killed.

The pair had known each other since middle school, he said, though they were not close. In early January 2015, Coleman sent Bowman a Facebook message asking to buy a gun.

Bowman said he had sold guns to other people. He said he told Coleman he could provide a .380 pistol for $150. Coleman offered half the money and 4 grams of marijuana.

"I never agreed to it," Bowman said.

It was a few minutes after midnight on Jan. 5 when the two met in Coleman's front yard in the Robles Park area of Tampa.

Bowman let Coleman hold the loaded weapon, he said. Coleman removed the magazine as he examined the gun.

Bowman said he asked for the money. Coleman, still holding the gun, reached in his pocket and pulled out a few dollar bills.

"I told him that don't look like that's all the money," Bowman said.

When he asked for the gun back, Bowman said Coleman pointed it at him and told him to get away.

Bowman said he tried to grab the gun. Both had their hands on it, raising their arms over their heads as they struggled for control. At some point, the magazine went back in, he said.

"We were tussling for the gun," he said. "I was screaming for help."

Bowman said he managed to fling the weapon onto the front lawn before both men fell in the driveway.

Bowman grabbed the gun, looked back and saw Coleman "charging" toward him. He said Coleman had something in his hand.

He pointed and fired. Coleman kept coming, so he fired again, he said.

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"I never even looked to see if I shot him," Bowman said. "I just ran."

Bowman's version of events didn't quite square with the testimony of at least one other witness who testified Monday.

Elouise Dupree, who lives yards away from the shooting scene, said she went outside when she heard two men arguing. She saw them both standing, arguing, but not screaming or struggling. Neither of them was on the ground, she said. She heard two gunshots, then saw a man running.

Assistant State Attorney Courtney Derry tried to cast further doubt on Bowman's claims.

Why, she asked, didn't Bowman just leave?

"I wanted my gun back," he said.

"A $150 gun is less important than your life, right?" Derry asked.

"Yes, it is," Bowman said.

If Coleman was coming for him, but not the gun, how could he say he reasonably believed Coleman was going to kill him?

"He was coming toward me," Bowman said. "He was traveling at me."

"With nothing in his hands?" Derry asked.

"He had something in his hands," Bowman said.

"But you don't know what it was," Derry said.

Sometime after he fled, Bowman said he sold the gun to someone else. In the more than 22 months between the shooting and his arrest, police repeatedly asked the public for information about its unresolved homicides. Bowman never came forward.

He has one prior arrest, for a felony battery charge.

When questioned by a detective, Bowman said he had nothing to do with the shooting. He never claimed self-defense.

"I was scared," he said. "I knew I needed a lawyer."

Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez said she would issue a written ruling on whether "stand your ground" applies to the case. If she denies Bowman's claim, he will head toward a trial scheduled for next month.

Families of both men packed the courtroom for the hearing.

Coleman's father, Life Malcolm, said afterward that he did not believe Bowman's story matches the evidence. But he was pleased that Bowman didn't deny the shooting.

"I'm glad that the murderer of my son has finally divulged that he did this awful thing," Malcolm said, "Even though it's under the color of fiction."

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.