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Hillsborough judge grants Trevor Dooley bail in manslaughter appeal

Attorney William Ponall, left, confers with client Trevor Dooley, right, after Ponall asked a judge to release Dooley on bail during a hearing Monday in Tampa. Dooley is appealing a manslaughter conviction in the shooting death of a neighbor. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
Attorney William Ponall, left, confers with client Trevor Dooley, right, after Ponall asked a judge to release Dooley on bail during a hearing Monday in Tampa. Dooley is appealing a manslaughter conviction in the shooting death of a neighbor. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Published Dec. 1, 2016

TAMPA — Trevor Dooley sat hunched in a wheelchair, his shackled hands clasped in front of him, his head bowed over the defense table as if in prayer.

When the judge came in, Dooley sat straight, watching, nodding occasionally, as his attorney argued that the 75-year-old Valrico man deserves a chance to be let out of jail.

On Wednesday, a judge granted his request. Bail was set at $100,000.

It has been six years since Dooley shot and killed his neighbor, David James, after the two fought over skateboarding rules on a basketball court in their neighborhood. It has been four years since Dooley unsuccessfully argued he was defending himself — standing his ground — after James attacked him.

And it has been three years since Dooley, his first appeal denied, started serving an eight-year prison sentence for manslaughter.

Now, in the latest turn for a case that doesn't seem to end, Dooley appeared Monday before Circuit Judge Thomas Barber asking for bail while his newest appeal is pending.

Dooley's attorney, Bill Ponall, noted that he was free on bail during his first appeal, and before his trial. There is little risk Dooley would flee and he poses no danger to the community, Ponall argued.

James' widow, Kanina Eurez, implored the judge to leave Dooley behind bars.

"I think along the way we've kind of stepped over what happened that day," Eurez said, her voice breaking. "If he is granted bond, he gets to go home to his family. We don't have even an extra second with D.J. He took that from us."

Barber told Eurez, who has remarried, that he understood her frustrations. It is hard to see the fairness in a case like this, the judge said, where despite a conviction and sentence, the pursuit of justice continues.

"For everybody there should be some finality," Barber said. "There should be a winner and a loser. . . . But it doesn't always come out like that."

Dooley's latest appeal centers on what his defense says were flawed jury instructions about justifiable use of deadly force.

His arguments were the basis earlier this year of a decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal to grant him a new trial. The decision came after a state prosecutor initially conceded error and agreed that the wording of the jury instructions compromised Dooley's first trial.

But the state, upon further review of the case, withdrew its concession. Assistant State Attorney Stephen Ugadawa said the concession was a mistake on the part of the attorney who handled the case at the appellate level.

The appeals court revised its opinion, affirming Dooley's conviction, but granting him a new appeal.

In court Monday, Ponall estimated it could be up to a year before the new appeal is reviewed and decided. Dooley's current release date is in February 2022, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Ugadawa suggested Dooley might have more reason to flee now, having been exposed to prison life.

Dooley's wife, Patricia, testified that her husband has strong ties to the Tampa Bay area, especially Spring Hill, where his wife and son now live.

A native of Jamaica, Dooley is an American citizen. He surrendered his passport upon his conviction. If he is granted bail, his wife said, she would help him comply with the conditions of his release.

It was unclear why Dooley sat in a wheelchair at Monday's hearing. At previous court appearances, he used a cane.

State rules of criminal procedure give judges discretion to grant bail to defendants who are appealing in non-capital cases.

After questioning attorneys for Dooley and the state, Barber said he needed time to consider the issues. On Wednesday, he issued an order, permitting Dooley's bail.

Dooley will be restricted from travel outside Hernando County. The judge ordered him to have no contact with James' family.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Dooley had yet to leave jail.

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