TAMPA (WFLA) – The Trevor Dooley legal saga is finally over, but painful memories from 11 years ago live on for the family of David James.
Dooley shot and killed James in front of his daughter on a Valrico basketball court after an argument over a skateboarder.
“I still have those words echoing in my mind when you screamed, why is nobody helping him?” James’ widow Kanina Eurez said, standing next to her daughter Danielle after a change of plea hearing Tuesday afternoon.
“And you’re so brave now, you’ve been so brave through the whole thing,” Eurez told her daughter, who is now almost 20-years-old.
Instead of reliving in detail the heartbreak of losing a husband and father a second trial for the now 80-year-old Dooley, the court accepted his guilty plea for the charge of manslaughter in a deal for three years probation.
That charge could carry a maximum penalty of up to 30 years in prison.
Both Eurez and Danielle James said they are ready to move on after more than a decade of delays and frustrations with the judicial system.
“When I was in third grade I lost my dad to a gunshot wound,” James said during her prepared statement in court. “But not from a terrorist or enemies far away. One of our neighbors had gotten mad and started yelling at the boy on the skateboard and my dad stepped up to the man who was being a bully.”
David James, 41, had recently retired from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years of service before the deadly encounter on the basketball court on Sept. 26, 2010.
“David devoted his life to establishing justice and liberty for all by sacrificing his own liberties—only to have his life and liberty taken from him as he finally got a chance to pursue his own happiness and the happiness of his family,” Eurez said during her statement.
Before accepting the agreement reached by prosecutors and Dooley’s defense attorneys, Judge Williams repeatedly asked Eurez and her daughter if they approved of the deal.
“We just wanted it to be over,” Danielle James said after the hearing. “We want to be able to get on with our lives build our own life and happiness without the weight of all this dragging us down.”
This criminal case dragged on for more than a decade.
Dooley invoked a Stand Your Ground self-defense at trial in 2012. A jury convicted him and former judge – now Florida Attorney General – Ashley Moody sentenced him to 8 years in prison followed by 10 years probation.
But Dooley bonded out about two years later after winning a lengthy appeal based on what his defense called erroneous jury instructions.
In 2019, an appeals court overturned Dooley’s conviction after determining Moody gave incorrect instructions to the jury that “improperly conflated, and thereby confused” jurors about the distinction in law that allowed Dooley to claim a Stand Your Ground defense.
A new trial had been set to begin in the coming weeks, but Tuesday’s plea is the final chapter in this legal saga.
“You know you didn’t have to come back to that court and shoot somebody in front of their 8-year-old daughter,” Judge Williams said to Dooley. “Who does that?”
At the end of the hearing, Judge Williams offered an apology and told James’ family “the court system let you down.”
“I think the victim’s family agreeing to this plea is braver than anything you’ve ever done in your life, and I’ll leave it at that,” Judge Williams told Dooley, before he got up and left the courtroom.