TAMPA — A proposed deal that would end Trevor Dooley’s decade-long slog through the criminal legal system calls for him to accept a three-year probation sentence for the 2010 killing of David James.
Hillsborough prosecutors revealed in court Thursday the plea offer, which would spare the 80-year-old Dooley any more prison time.
A judge wanted to hear from the victim’s family before signing off on an agreement. A formal change-of-plea hearing is set for Tuesday.
James’ widow, Kanina Eurez, told the Tampa Bay Times that she and her family agreed to the proposal. But they’re not happy about it.
“While we are agreeing, we are absolutely infuriated,” she said. “It feels like this is the only justice we’re going to get.”
She declined to comment further until after Tuesday’s court hearing.
The deal would cap the long-running case, which has stayed alive through the years as a result of multiple appeals and assorted court delays. When it began, the Dooley case garnered local notoriety both for its bizarre circumstances and its invocation of Florida’s stand your ground self-defense law.
James, a 41-year-old Air Force veteran, was playing basketball the afternoon of Sept. 26, 2010, with his then-8-year-old daughter, Danielle, on their neighborhood court near the end of a long, looping street called Partridge Point Trail. Dooley lived across the road.
He stepped out to complain about a teenage skateboarder who was doing tricks on the other side of the court. He told the teen he wasn’t allowed to skate there. James told Dooley that he’d given the kid permission.
The two men argued. Dooley walked into his garage, but came back out and walked to the edge of the court. The argument continued. Dooley lifted his shirt, revealing the butt of a Kel-Tec 32 pistol. He turned to walk away, but James turned him back around to continue the argument, according to court records. The two began to wrestle. Dooley pulled the gun. James tried to grab it. Dooley fired a single gunshot into James’ chest. He died soon after.
Dooley was charged with manslaughter. Before his first trial, he invoked Florida’s stand your ground self-defense law.
Judge Ashley Moody, who a few years later would become Florida’s attorney general, denied his stand your ground claim. Dooley argued self-defense again at his 2012 trial, telling a jury that he was struggling to fend off a man much younger and bigger than he was. He said he pulled the gun only after James grabbed him by the throat. “I had no other choice,” he testified then.
The jury found him guilty. The judge later sentenced him to eight years in prison.
Then came a seemingly interminable series of appeals.
Dooley went to prison in late 2014. But in 2016, he was allowed out on $100,000 bail while his lawyers argued that the jury had received erroneous instructions about the justifiable use of deadly force.
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An appeals court ultimately agreed that Dooley’s jury got bad instructions. They ordered a new trial. Then came more delays. Then came questions of whether he deserved a new stand your ground hearing because of a change in the law. Then came a pandemic, and a backlog of court cases statewide.
A new trial was finally to occur next month.