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Father of Lyfe Coleman confronted suspect in son’s shooting death

TAMPA — A loud knock at Life Malcolm’s bedroom door wrenched him from sleep just after midnight. In the darkness of that early morning — Jan. 5, 2015 — Malcolm opened the door and heard his sister say something about his son in the front yard.

Malcolm stepped outside. There beside a chain-link gate lay 18-year-old Lyfe Coleman.

The teen’s body shook. Blood poured from a gunshot wound to his face.

A 911 call captured Malcolm’s quiet panic.

"We have an emergency," he told a call taker. "My man, he’s not really responding."

Dread filled his voice as paramedics listened.

"Lyfe!" he shouted. "Lyfe! Lyfe!"

The call, and Malcolm’s account of the events of that morning, were presented to a jury Monday in the trial of Reginald Bowman, accused of second-degree murder in Coleman’s death. He faces a sentence of up to life in prison if convicted.

The trial is the culmination of a case that joined other killings of African-American teenagers to plague Tampa in 2015 and raise questions of trust between the black community and police.

Malcolm, wearing a black suit, a graying beard and dreadlocks, spoke softly from the witness stand as he recounted the day his life changed forever.

After his son’s death, Malcolm worked his connections within the community to try to find the person responsible, he said.

He didn’t know Reginald Bowman, he said. He also didn’t hear until later that his son had tried to buy a gun from him.

He learned that Bowman worked as a deliveryman for Jimmy John’s sandwich shop in Ybor City. Among the items police collected from the yard was a visor bearing the Jimmy John’s logo.

Malcolm recalled a visit he made to Jimmy John’s sometime in early 2015. It was the first time he met Bowman.

"I said, ‘My name is Life,’ " he said. The men shook hands.

"You know why I’m here, don’t you?" Malcolm asked. " ‘(Bowman) said, ‘No, but I feel threatened.’?"

In the nearly two years before Bowman’s November 2016 arrest, Malcolm had repeated conversations with a detective, relaying tips people gave him.

Assistant State Attorney Courtney Derry told jurors they will hear testimony Bowman, 22, gave in an earlier hearing, where he tried to claim immunity from prosecution under Florida’s "stand your ground" law.

At that hearing, Bowman testified that he met with Coleman to negotiate the purchase of a .380-caliber pistol. He said he gave the gun to Coleman to inspect, then demanded it back believing Coleman didn’t have the money to make the purchase.

Bowman said Coleman then pointed the gun at him, touching off a struggle for the weapon. After gaining control of it, Bowman said he fired two shots as Coleman charged toward him. Then Bowman ran away.

Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez denied Bowman’s "stand your ground" claim, paving the way for the trial.

"What you will have the very difficult task of deciding is whether or not Reginald Bowman killed Lyfe Coleman in self-defense, or whether it was murder," Derry told the jury. "I submit to you that it was murder."

Bowman’s attorney, Janet Howard, said Coleman refused to return the gun before threatening Bowman.

"It was a bad deal," Howard said. "Mr. Coleman tried to deceive my client."

The trial is scheduled to resume today.

Coleman was the first to die in a year marked by several shootings in which police struggled to win cooperation from the black community.

In March, there was the shooting of 16-year-old Jamylin Turner, a killing that remains unsolved. The same month saw the death of 14-year-old Richard Newton. Joseph Huggins is serving a 25-year prison sentence for Newton’s killing.

In the weeks that followed, 16-year-old E.J. Harris was killed in a drive-by shooting in Woodland Terrace Park and Sharon Watkins, a 58-year-old grandmother, was shot through the window of her home, the unintended target of a gang feud, police said. The Harris and Watkins cases also remain unsolved.

Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

     
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