A judge immediately sentences Eric Gordon to life in prison for shooting Lee Gamble.
By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2003
LARGO -- Lee Gamble simply asked that everyone chill out, that the fight be shifted outside.
There had been a quarrel in the bar that night. One man wielded a pool cue, another unsheathed a knife. Gamble, whose wife was at home seven months pregnant, stepped between them.
That didn't sit well with Eric Gordon and Thomas Brown, the two men who started the fight. They left Gus's Place in Largo, fetched a shotgun and returned just after the bar closed. Gamble was in the parking lot saying his goodbyes, his car door propped open as he prepared to leave.
A few seconds more and he would have been on his way home.
But Gordon and Brown stepped toward Gamble, the shotgun wrapped in cloth and cradled in Gordon's arms. Gordon raised the gun and fired, blasting a hole in the back of Gamble's head. He fell to the ground and died.
Detectives over the next two days arrested both men in connection with Gamble's Feb. 24, 2002, death. Gordon was charged with first-degree murder, Brown with being a principle to the crime.
On Thursday afternoon, a jury took about an hour to convict Gordon, 32, of the charge. Judge Jack St. Arnold immediately sentenced him to a mandatory life sentence. Earlier in the week, Brown, 33, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years behind bars.
"When you take a life, be prepared to give up a life," prosecutor Frank Piazza told the judge before Gordon's sentencing, a message from Gamble's wife.
Gordon's attorney, Larry Hoffman, had argued that Gordon shot the gun accidentally. He said a charge of manslaughter or third-degree murder would be more appropriate for his client.
"The state cannot show premeditation," Hoffman told jurors. "The whole thing was stupid, but stupidity does not equal premeditation."
Gordon's sister, Mary Jones, said she didn't think her brother, who has four children under the age of 11, was capable of planning to take someone's life.
"It was just an accident," she said.
Jurors apparently didn't buy it. And Gamble's height may have had something to do with that.
Gamble stood about 6-feet-4. Gordon is a full foot shorter, meaning he was holding the gun at an upward angle when the trigger was pulled. Prosecutors said that doesn't lend credence to an accidental shooting theory.
"Bullets go where you aim them," prosecutor Stephen O'Keefe told jurors. "And guns go off when your finger is on the trigger. When you point a loaded shotgun and you have your finger on the trigger, it's not an accident."
Upon sentencing, Gordon told the judge prosecutors had it all wrong.
Vickie Thomas, Gamble's sister, said she was pleased with the verdict, "but the only thing that really ticked me off is he has no remorse. That would make me feel even better than the verdict. But there is no remorse. This is a heartless guy."
Gamble's family members also had mixed feelings about Brown's plea deal. Though Gamble's wife felt relieved that Brown received some prison time, his sister thought he also should have faced life.
"They were cowards. Both of them were cowards," she said of the two Largo men.
Piazza said Brown would have been tougher to convict because he was not the shooter. He had also denied knowing that Gordon planned to shoot Gamble.
Piazza said prosecutors agreed to the deal after Brown's attorney approached them with the offer. Prosecutors could have summoned Brown to testify against Gordon, but elected not to. They already had five witnesses, some whom knew Gordon for years, who identified him as the shooter.
The dispute that night in Gus's Place, 1263 Baskins Crossing Road, began when Brown reached into another man's pocket for money. The other man pushed him away, sparking a fight in which Brown grabbed a pool cue and Gordon whipped out a knife.
After Gamble broke up the fight, both men went to Brown's grandfather's house and got a shotgun. Gordon loaded it and they returned to the bar.
Gamble, 37, had grown up in the Largo, but was living in Clearwater at the time of his death. He and his wife of nine years recently had bought a house and were expecting their first child.
On the day he died, Gamble bought a high chair, the final piece of baby furniture on his list for his child. His baby boy, who shares his name, was born about two months after his death.
His family said they know Gamble was just trying to do the right thing the night he died.
"He was a gentle giant," his sister said. "When Lee did this, he didn't think the outcome would be the way it was."
-- Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or firstname.lastname@example.org .