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Girl set to testify in Trevor Dooley manslaughter trial

TAMPA — The little girl who saw her father fatally shot on a Valrico basketball court in 2010 after arguing with a neighbor over a skateboarder will be a witness for the defense when the neighbor's manslaughter trial begins next week.

Danielle James, who was 8 when her father, David James, 41, died, was a witness for the prosecution. But her statements in court hearings have partly supported the defense's claim of self-defense.

On Wednesday, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody ordered the state to produce her next week, even though prosecutors no longer intend to call her as a witness. Danielle lives with relatives in Minnesota, but she remains under the supervision of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

In earlier hearings, Danielle testified that she heard the neighbor, Trevor Dooley, 71, tell her father, "I don't want to get into a fight." She also said she never saw Dooley flash or pull a gun. She said she simply heard a gunshot as the men wrestled on the ground.

Wednesday's hearing came in preparation for one of Hillsborough County's highest-profile trials. It will start Tuesday in circuit court's largest courtroom to accommodate an extra-large jury pool.

Dooley is charged with shooting James after they argued about a 14-year-old skateboarder who was using the community basketball court as James and his daughter shot hoops. Dooley, armed with a handgun, had come from his home across the street to shoo the skateboarder away.

Dooley's attorney, Ronald Tulin, failed to convince Judge Moody and the 2nd District Court of Appeal that Dooley deserved immunity under Florida's "stand your ground" law. He still can try to convince a jury that Dooley fired out of fear for his life.

The "stand your ground" law is the same law being invoked in the February shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford by George Zimmerman — a case with many similarities. There, lawyers also dispute which one was actually standing his ground.

Dooley has testified that he fired only because James was choking him and trying to pull the gun out of his hand and he feared he'd be killed.

"I couldn't talk; I couldn't even see him," Dooley testified. "I wanted to tell him, 'You're killing me. You're choking me to death.'"

But other witnesses have said Dooley first flashed a gun at James, then pulled it from his pants when James stepped toward him. They said they didn't see James choke Dooley. They said James was shot while trying to wrestle the gun away.

Next week, Danielle will testify via closed-circuit TV from a room adjacent to the courtroom where Dooley and the jury will be. Both the state and the defense agreed that the child, who is receiving mental health counseling, should not have to testify in front of Dooley.