Everyday tiff erupts in ultimate ugliness
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 13, 2000
You are a parent. Outside your house one afternoon, you hear neighborhood kids fighting, the way that 10- or 11-year-olds sometimes do. (Thank goodness, none of them are yours.) You go out and break it up and tell everybody to go home.
Next thing you know, one of the kids' mothers, a neighbor, is at your door. She is screaming names at you. Then she calls her boyfriend. He comes screeching up in his convertible. He jumps out. With a gun.
That is pretty much how Jemale Wells' life ended on Sunday afternoon.
He was 39 years old, a retired military guy. He had two young daughters. His neighbors described him as a caring and involved parent.
I am trying to think of some possible reason that Jemale Wells deserved to get shot to death, in his own neighborhood, on his own street, in an area of suburban northwest Hillsborough County called Countryway.
Can't come up with one.
Maybe the neighbor thought Wells had been too rough with her son.
Hey, none of us were there. For all I know, maybe he grabbed the kid's arm or something. Breaking up a fight among kids might very well involve grabbing an arm. I'm not saying it happened because I don't know.
Even so, you could fairly say: Not something to die for.
Maybe the mother didn't like the way Wells responded when she went to his house. I'm not sure I would respond so well, either, if I had broken up a fight among kids outside my house, only to have one of the kids' mothers show up screaming at me.
Deputies say she screamed:
N-----. And, for variety, f------ n-----.
Did I leave that part out? Wells was black. The 37-year-old mother was white. This may not matter to you, but it apparently held some relevance for her, and for her boyfriend.
Oh, yeah. Cue the boyfriend.
Randolph Puryear is 40 years old. He is a dentist, which suggests that at some point he at least was smart enough to pass some sort of test.
According to the deputies, the mother calls Puryear. His woman is being threatened. His testosterone spikes. He comes rushing over in his Chrysler convertible. He decides that exactly the right thing to do, the real rocket-science thing, is to bring a pistol.
Puryear joins the confrontation with Wells and continues the racial name-calling. A scuffle breaks out. Wells gets shot.
We do not know more details.
Maybe Wells got mad, too, and refused to retreat. Maybe he was scared, or tried to grab the gun. I know that I certainly would be scared and mad if a bunch of yahoos showed up on my lawn with a gun, calling me n-----.
But maybe that's just me.
Puryear was charged by the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office with manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Whether he can be charged with anything more serious -- say, first- or second-degree murder -- is up to the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office.
First-degree murder can involve the conscious intent to kill, with time to reflect on what you are about to do. Maybe on his drive over there, with his pistol at his side, our hero was thinking about the weather, or the Bucs.
Second-degree murder does not require premeditation. It is the classic crime of passion, like, say, you know, when your anger rages out of control and you kill a guy.
Of course, manslaughter might be the right charge. Or maybe a jury can be convinced nobody committed any crime at all. But it is too bad there is no such charge as Being Too Stupid To Be Allowed To Walk Around.
It is a relief to hear from the Sheriff's Office that this was not a hate crime. Showing up at a man's house with a gun, calling him a n----- and then getting into a fight that results in his death does not sound like a hate crime to me, either. How about you?
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