TAMPA — A single punch thrown amid an early-morning argument outside an Ybor City bar ended one man’s life and will cost another several years of his own.
Justin Jasper accepted a seven-year prison sentence Wednesday for causing the death of Dyante Neal, who died after what police and prosecutors described as an unprovoked blow to the head. In a deal with prosecutors, Jasper also agreed to serve five years of probation upon his release and complete 75 hours of community service.
For Neal’s family, the outcome was bittersweet.
“My family and I are just kind of glad to have closure to the criminal aspect of this,” said his mother, Dionne Neal. “Seven years to me is not nearly long enough for taking someone’s life.”
Jasper, 34, pleaded no contest earlier this month to a manslaughter charge.
“Mr. Jasper took responsibility for his actions,” said his attorney, Jay Hebert. “We recognize unequivocally that this is a tragic case for all parties — that one life is lost and another is going to be affected for years. Both families are devastated by the impact of a bad decision.”
The crime happened about 2:30 a.m. Sept. 26, 2019, on the sidewalk outside the Coyote Ugly Saloon on E Seventh Avenue in Ybor City. Video from that night showed Neal talking to two men, police said. A man got in his face. Neal appeared to be trying to avoid a conflict, police said. A crowd began to form.
Jasper, who was in a nearby car, got out, approached Neal from behind and hit him in the side of his face. Neal fell, his head striking the pavement. As he lay on the ground, Jasper took a portable speaker Neal had been holding and threw it at him, police said.
Neal was taken to a hospital, where he remained for five days. His jaw and skull were fractured. With no brain function, his family decided to take him off life support.
“This was an unprovoked violent attack, with no justification and no excuse — and the strong case we built to secure this conviction makes it clear that our community won’t tolerate it,” Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement.
Jasper left after the attack, but later cooperated with investigators and turned himself in when a warrant was issued. He posted $200,000 bail two weeks after he was arrested and was released from jail.
He had worked as a fitness model and was a former Arizona State University football player. He had no history of trouble with the law.
Neal, who was working on finishing a college degree, was 25 when he died. He was the youngest of three brothers. Born in New York and raised in Georgia, he played middle linebacker at North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Ga. After graduating, he moved to St. Petersburg, and later to his mother’s home in Tampa. He’d taken college classes at St. Petersburg College and aimed to finish an associate’s degree at Hillsborough Community College.
His family described him as a jokester who loved people and sports and was good at calming his football teammates when they got amped up. A few months before he died, his mother said he’d decided he wanted to become a science teacher and coach youth football.
Neal’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jasper and the bar where the attack occurred. The civil case is pending.
“I feel like I’m sentenced to a lifetime of grief and sorrow and missing my son,” she said.
Jasper said little in court Wednesday. He was ordered to report to the Orient Road Jail by the end of the day to begin his sentence.