Dooley sentenced to eight years in shooting at Valrico park
TAMPA - To his family, Trevor Dooley was a gentle, sweet man who went out of his way to help strangers and avoided conflict at all costs. To the family of the man he killed, Dooley was a bully who harassed children for being kids and playing outdoors. Dooley, 72, shot and killed David James, 41, on Sept. 25, 2010, during an argument over a young skateboarder at the Twin Lakes recreational park in Valrico, across the street from Dooley’s home. The fatal confrontation happened in front of James’ daughter, Danielle, who was then 8.At Dooley’s sentencing hearing Thursday, Danielle’s grandmother, Antoinette, read a letter from the girl. "I hate your guts, Trevor Dooley," she wrote. Under a sentence handed down Thursday, Dooley will spend eight years behind bars, the same number of years Danielle had with her dad. Defense lawyer Ronald Tulin said he will file a motion seeking Dooley’s release on bail pending his appeal. Dooley had claimed self-defense under the state’s "Stand Your Ground Law," but that was rejected in a pretrial hearing and later by jurors. To the prosecution, Dooley is remorseless and irresponsible. He blames everyone, including the victim, for his violent deeds. He deserves to be punished for destroying so many lives and scarring children who were just playing in a park. The defense, on the other hand, says Dooley is consumed by remorse. He wishes he had died that day instead of James. He is psychologically tormented, to the point he is afraid of showering because the sound of the drain reminds him of James’ last gasp. The prosecution and the James’ family wanted the maximum possible sentence for Dooley — 30 years in prison. The defense sought community control for Dooley, no prison, arguing that the law-abiding life he led until the slaying means that prison isn’t necessary. Circuit Judge Ashley Moody handed down the 8-year-sentence, followed by 10 years of probation. The sentence was less than the minimum of more than 10 years in prison called for in state sentencing guidelines for the crime. Moody said people on both sides, and people in the community at large, have oversimplified what happened that day. For one thing, Moody noted, Dooley was legally entitled to have a gun that day. He held a permit. Most disturbing, Moody said, were suggestions — some from Dooley — that race played a role in the case. "I want to assure everyone involved (that) this verdict was rendered by a multi-racial jury" that listened to the evidence carefully, she said. After he was convicted in November of manslaughter with a weapon, Dooley lashed out at reporters, saying, "Imagine a 240-pound, 6-foot-1 black man on the court with his daughter playing basketball. A little white man, 160 pounds, came out for any reason whatsoever. The black man attacked the white man. And the white man shot him …" David James, Dooley continued, "brought it on himself. I tried to go home. I walked away. Do you really think if it was the other way around and the skin color was different, we would be here today? We wouldn’t." Dooley’s daughter, Tanya, blamed his outburst on the pressure of the trial. She told Moody that her father was frustrated, and had never before expressed anything about race playing a role in the case. For her part, though, Tanya Dooley said, "I think it could possibly be racial." Moody rejected the notion. "I do not see a black man sitting in front of me," she said. "I see a man who was married to the same woman for 40 years who raised three children and who had a work ethic I hope my own children will have some day." Dooley had retired from a job with the phone company in New York and was working as a school bus driver. He volunteered as a HAM radio operator to help the community during emergencies, said defense lawyer Ronald Tulin. A psychologist, Richard Carpenter, said Dooley began carrying a gun because after he moved to Florida, a would-be robber pointed a gun in his car window and pulled the trigger. The gun didn’t go off. "Sadly," the judge said, "what I’ve heard through testimony and described through letters was a good man who made very bad decisions on Sept. 25. … Because of that, Mr. James’ life was cut short." James, she said, was "a hero who served our country … "This event could have been avoided if at some point, someone had stopped and said, ‘First let me introduce myself.’" Moody said the crime was an isolated incident committed in an unsophisticated manner. Dooley, she said, is in poor health with no criminal history. Before he was sentenced, Dooley apologized to James’ family in a statement read by his attorney. "My entire life, I never thought I would ever be standing before a judge to be sentenced like a criminal," Dooley wrote. "… All the good things I’ve done in my life no longer represent me. Rather my name is synonymous with this day and what I have done." In her letter, Danielle said, "That was the worst day of my life because I had to watch my dad die." James’ widow, Kanina James, trembled when addressing Dooley and the court. "You’ve never shown an ounce of remorse," she said, "and I hope you spend the rest of your life miserable in jail where you belong." The judge, however, concluded Dooley has shown remorse. After the sentencing, Kanina James rejected the idea. "I don’t buy any of it," she told reporters. "I’ve seen him in the courtroom laughing, joking. He had so many opportunities to even mouth the words to us, ‘I’m sorry.’ He never did. Never," she said.