Man, 29, guilty in fight death

The Zephyrhills man said he was defending himself during a drunken brawl.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
Published January 29, 2008

DADE CITY - David John Trombley pleaded guilty on Monday to a charge of unnecessary killing to prevent an unlawful act.

He did it to avoid a long prison sentence.

Which is not the same as saying the 29-year-old Zephyrhills man understood exactly what his crime was in the first place.

"All I was doing was protecting myself," he told the court. "I didn't mean for all this to happen."

Authorities say a drunken brawl broke out at the Vagabond Mobile Home Park in Zephyrhills the night of March 13, 2006. During the scuffle, authorities said, Trombley struck Joe Burke with a metal pole.

But Burke was still alive at the end of that brawl.

He checked himself into the hospital the next day. His condition deteriorated and he died 10 days later when the hospital turned off his life support.

Cause of death: a ruptured spleen. The medical examiner ruled it was the result of blunt force trauma.

Trombley told the Times he was defending himself from a drunk, wrench-wielding Burke. But witnesses said that when Burke swung the wrench he wasn't close enough to menace Trombley.

Yet Trombley, witnesses said, still struck Burke 10 to 15 seconds after the victim's aggressive, if futile, act.

The state deemed it an "unnecessary" act of manslaughter because Burke was not, in fact, the threat that the defendant had described him as.

Trombley faced between seven and 15 years in prison. But Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa sentenced him to just 40 months behind bars.

That's a little over three years. With credit for time served in the county jail since his 2006 arrest, Trombley could serve as little as 19 months in state prison.

The judge found reason to depart from the recommended sentence:

First, the victim was a participant in the brawl. Second, it was an isolated incident and the defendant had no prior violent criminal history.

Trombley had also shown remorse for the death of Burke, 43, even if he still doesn't understand that death.

"Everything was handled that night," Trombley told the judge, "and 10 days later he was dead."

"If he were here, would you apologize?" the judge asked.

"Yes sir," Trombley said.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or 727 869-6236.