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Trevor Dooley's lawyers seek dismissal in Tampa 'stand your ground' case

Published Apr. 13, 2012

TAMPA — Trevor Dooley's lawyers say it was an act of self-defense — pulling the trigger kept him alive.

David James was on top of him, hands around Dooley's neck. Dooley couldn't breathe. He tried to warn James by poking him in the leg twice with a handgun.

When it didn't work, Dooley fired.

Lawyers for Dooley, the man accused of killing his Valrico neighbor, submitted their argument Thursday in a motion asking a judge to dismiss the manslaughter charge against him.

Their main defense? Florida's "stand your ground" law.

The law allows a person to use deadly force to save his own life, even if retreat is possible.

The filing comes at a time when national attention is focused on another Florida case in which the "stand your ground" law has been invoked.

More than six weeks after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, authorities arrested George Zimmerman Wednesday amid public outcry for justice. Charged with second-degree murder, Zimmerman told Sanford police he shot Martin in self-defense after Martin attacked him.

Dooley's lawyers also say the then 69-year-old was protecting himself when he shot James, 41, after a 2010 argument over skateboarding.

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the altercation began when Dooley approached the basketball courts in his Twin Lakes subdivision telling a skateboarder he wasn't allowed. James protested.

Dooley, who had a concealed weapons permit, started to walk away with a gun partially visible in his waistband, deputies said. James called after him and Dooley turned back. James lunged, and they both tumbled to the ground.

James, a 20-year Air Force veteran, was kneeling on top of Dooley when the gun went off.

Now, it will be up to Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody to make the call. She can decide to move forward with a jury trial or dismiss the charge based on the law.

In order to use the law, several factors must be met.

"Under "stand your ground" in this state, you have a right to have a firearm with you. You have a right to basically have a heated discussion with somebody," said Tampa defense attorney John Fitzgibbons. "And if you are in reasonable fear of your life because of actions taken by another person, then you are allowed to use deadly force."

In the motion filed Thursday, Dooley's lawyers outline four important details in their case.

First, Dooley was not engaged in any illegal activities, they stated. Though Dooley was charged with improper exhibition of a firearm and openly carrying a firearm, the motion denies this. It states that Dooley always kept his handgun in his right pants pocket.

Second, Dooley was attacked. James "lunged" and "charged" at Dooley, the motion states.

"(James) gave Mr. Dooley no choice but to defend himself when he pinned him to the ground and began choking him."

Third, the motion states Dooley had a right to be at the park because he was a resident of the community.

And fourth, Dooley believed firing the gun was necessary to prevent his own death.

"Here, the evidence is overwhelming that Mr. Dooley had a choice that day," the motion states, "either wait to be killed by (James) or defend himself by using his handgun he was legally carrying."

The motion also points out the size and appearance of James as a contributing factor to Dooley's fear for his life. James was younger, heavier and stronger than Dooley, the motion states. Dooley was weaker and more fragile due to existing medical conditions.

The state is expected to present its side to Judge Moody in a motion later this month.

In the end, it will come down to what the evidence shows.

"No matter how you view the statute," Fitzgibbons said, "it would appear to apply if, and only if, you believe Trevor Dooley's version of the events."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2442.

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