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Appeals court grants new trial for Trevor Dooley in 2010 stand your ground case

Attorney William Ponall, left, confers with client Trevor Dooley, right, after Ponall asked to release Dooley on bail [TIMES  |  2016]
Attorney William Ponall, left, confers with client Trevor Dooley, right, after Ponall asked to release Dooley on bail [TIMES | 2016]
Published Apr. 3, 2019

TAMPA — A state appeals court has ordered a new trial for Trevor Dooley, the man who unsuccessfully argued self defense under Florida's stand your ground law in a fatal shooting that began with an argument on a Valrico basketball court.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued an opinion Wednesday in which they agreed that the jury in Dooley's 2012 trial received erroneous instructions on the justifiable use of deadly force. The court overturned Dooley's convictions for manslaughter and open display of a weapon, but upheld his conviction for unlawful exhibition of a weapon.

The judges sent the much-publicized case back to the trial court. Lawyers for Dooley and the state did not immediately return calls for comment.

Previous coverage: Appeals court hears arguments over new trial in 2010 Valrico stand your ground case

Dooley, 78, has been free on an appellate bond since 2016. He previously served about one year of an eight-year prison sentence.

The jury found him guilty in the shooting death of David James, which occurred during an argument about a skateboarder on their neighborhood basketball court.

James, who was 41 when he was killed, was shooting hoops with his 8-year-old daughter. He gave a 14-year-old skateboarder permission to also use the court, which caught the attention of Dooley, who lived across the street.

Dooley admonished the teen, saying it was against the rules to skate there. James then argued with Dooley. As they exchanged words, Dooley flipped up his shirt to reveal a gun, then began to walk away.

James grabbed Dooley from behind. A scuffle began. Dooley drew his gun and James tried to grab it. Dooley then shot James in the chest. He died a short time later.

Related: Hillsborough judge grants Trevor Dooley bail in manslaughter appeal

Dooley invoked the stand your ground law, which says that when faced with a violent confrontation, a person has no duty to retreat and can use deadly force if in fear of great bodily harm or death.

The jury deliberated about 90 minutes before finding him guilty of manslaughter.

His argument on appeal centered on subtle differences in the wording of two state statutes related to stand your ground, as they existed in 2010.

Back then, the law on which Dooley relied said simply that a person had no duty to retreat. But a separate law added certain conditions, including that the person claiming the defense could not have been engaged in unlawful activity at the time.

Backstory: Jury finds Trevor Dooley guilty in manslaughter case

Dooley argued that the jury instruction was based only on the latter statute. But the written jury instructions made no distinction. And in the trial's closing arguments, a prosecutor told the jury that when Dooley showed the gun to James, he was committing the crime of unlawful exhibition of a weapon, and therefore the stand your ground law could not apply.

The first law was amended in 2014 to make both statutes consistent.

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

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