New trial granted for Trevor Dooley, years after failed 'Stand Your Ground' defense

In a decision handed down Wednesday from the Second District Court of Appeal, a panel of three judges overturned Trevor Dooley’s manslaughter conviction. 

In 2012, Dooley unsuccessfully used a "Stand Your Ground" defense after shooting and killing a 41-year-old father at a neighborhood park. At the time, a jury didn’t buy the defense, and took just 90 minutes to find him guilty of manslaughter. 

Dooley appealed the decision. His attorneys argued jury instructions provided at the time not only fell short of an adequate explanation of the law, but that prosecutors also gave jurors erroneous information about what the law states just before they had to make their final ruling. 

That, according to the appellate judges, made it impossible for jurors to accurately decide whether the use of force was justified.  

The deadly shooting occurred back in 2010. David James, a father who was with his 8-year-old daughter at a neighborhood basketball court in Valrico, was shot and killed by Dooley. 

Dooley initially came to the court to yell at a teen for skateboarding there. James, who had given the child permission to share the court with them, stepped in to defend the child from Dooley. A heated argument ensued and, at one point, Dooley flashed a gun at James. The two then got into a scuffle and Dooley shot James in the chest, killing him. 

Now, Dooley’s attorney was able to successfully convince judges that jurors were never given an accurate description of the difference between self-defense and stand your ground. 

In their decision to overrule his conviction and grant Dooley a new trial, judge Matthew Lucas wrote all three judges unanimously agreed, “that the instructions provided to [Dooley’s] jury concerning his defense to the charges of manslaughter and openly displaying a firearm were fundamentally erroneous.” 

Lucas explained that the verdict form did not include special instructions pertinent to Dooley’s self- defense claim, but rather “simply asked whether the jury found Mr. Dooley guilt or not guilty” on the charges he faced. 

The judges also found fault with certain statements the state made to jurors just before they were asked to decide the case. In closing statements, the prosecuting attorney told jurors the stand your ground defense, “doesn’t apply to [Dooley] because he’s already violated the law.” 

The statement, however, ignored an important legal distinction between whether Dooley was within his rights to use deadly force in self defense or by claiming stand your ground. A defendant cannot claim self defense if they’re violating the law at the time. The stipulation, though, is not necessary for a stand your ground defense. 

In this case, jurors ruled Dooley violated the law by unlawfully displaying a firearm, but what wasn’t made clear to them was that fact didn’t preclude him from using a stand your ground defense. 

This prompted Lucas to call the instructions given to the jury “fundamentally erroneous in this case.” 

Dooley has been on bond since 2016.  He’s served about a year of his eight-year sentence. 

A new trial date has not been set.