By LARRY KELLER
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 16, 2008
WEST PALM BEACH — A jury on Friday evening convicted Jose Tapanes of manslaughter, despite his contention he acted in self-defense in the predawn shotgunning of a neighbor in The Acreage.
Tapanes, 63, faces a maximum of 30 years in prison when he is sentenced June 9. The jury returned the verdict after six hours of deliberation, which followed a five-day trial.
Tapanes, seated at the defense table, shook his head after the verdict was read. His attorney, Public Defender Carey Haughwout, slipped an arm around his shoulders. Haughwout said she planned to appeal.
"I think the family is pleased with the verdict," Assistant State Attorney Andy Slater said.
Christopher Cote, 19, had moved in with his family across the street from Tapanes in September 2006 when the two argued as Cote walked his dog after 3 a.m. Cote then got in his Jeep, drove up Tapanes' driveway, got out and knocked on his door.
When Tapanes opened the door, he fired twice into Cote's gut with a pistol grip pump shotgun, killing him.
Cote's mother, Janet Murphy, wiped at tears after the verdict was read. She left the courtroom without a word.
Tapanes faced a first-degree murder charge, which could have sent him to prison for life. But he was convicted only of manslaughter with a firearm.
Neighbors said shortly after the shooting that Tapanes lived an eccentric life - he went through their trash religiously - and lived in a falling-down house with five dogs and several chickens. But he never seemed violent.
"The problem could have been resolved by a simple call to 911," Slater said in closing arguments. "This isn't a case of self-defense. It's a case of an angry man ... territorial in nature."
Slater didn't dispute that Cote was foolish for resuming the confrontation on Tapanes' property. "Because we do something foolish, doesn't mean we deserve to legally die for that," he said.
But Haughwout pointed out that Cote's family didn't call 911 either. Instead, they ran after him, futilely shouting for him to come back. Tapanes, she said, had good reason to fear for his life.
"He did what he had a right to do," she said. "He armed himself."
Slater and co-prosecutor Adam McMichael argued at trial that Tapanes' first shot knocked Cote down, but was not fatal. At that point, they said, Tapanes could have retreated inside his home, because any perceived danger had passed. Instead, he fired a blast to Cote's abdomen that severed his aorta.
Haughwout defended the second shot. "You don't stop until you know the threat is eliminated," she said.
Slater countered, "If you're afraid, you don't open the door."