A 20-year-old Florida man will spend more than four decades behind bars for shooting and killing a classmate’s father after he crashed the boy’s house party four years ago.
Seventh Circuit Judge Raul A. Zambrano on Friday ordered James Z. Powell to serve 45 years in a state penitentiary for shooting dead Joel Tatro, 45, at the man’s home, according to court documents reviewed by Law&Crime show.
Powell, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, was convicted by a Volusia County jury in March of second-degree murder and aggravated assault. In addition to decades of incarceration, Judge Zambrano sentenced Powell to probation for the rest of his life.
Powell was initially charged with attempted first degree murder because Tatro, who suffered a gunshot wound to the neck, initially survived but was left paralyzed from the neck down. However, Tatro, in March 2022, died “of COVID-19 with complications from the gunshot,” the medical examiner determined, Orlando CBS affiliate WKMG-TV reported.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Tatro hosted a party for two of his children and their high school friends on the night of Feb. 16, 2019, at his home in Oak Hill, about 80 miles northeast of Orlando. Twenty people were present, according to the police.
Around 1 a.m. on February 17, a dark blue Dodge sedan carrying several people pulled up in the driveway of the Tatro house. Several witnesses told police they immediately recognized Powell and two other boys from the school as they exited the vehicle and approached the Tatro residence. None of them had been invited to the party.
Party attendees confronted the intruders before they reached the house and told them the party was “by invitation only, and they should probably leave,” the affidavit said.
“Powell refused to go and started swearing. Joel Tatro came to where the group was standing and told Powell he was in violation and had to leave,” police wrote. “Powell said, ‘You don’t know who you’re fucking with,’ and he pushed Joel Tatro, who then pushed him away. In response to being pushed around, Powell yelled at [Tatro]”I’m going to kill you,” and Powell then pulled a black 9mm handgun from the waistband of his pants, pointed it at [Tatro]who was about three feet away and started shooting.
Tatro immediately fell to the ground after being hit in the neck by one of the bullets. At least six witnesses told investigators they were at least four feet away from Powell or Tatro and the time of the shooting and said he fired three or four shots.
After the shooting, Powell and the two men he was with returned to their vehicle and fled.
First responders arrived soon after and transported Tatro to Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach, where he was in critical condition.
Before being sentenced, Powell addressed the courtroom at the S. James Foxman Justice Center and pleaded for mercy, attempting to blame the pandemic as the ultimate cause of Tatro’s death.
“But this situation was never supposed to happen,” Powell said, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “It was a COVID death, sir. I never intended to hurt him.
However, Powell’s words apparently did not affect Judge Zambrano’s opinion of his actions.
“People have the right to be safe in their own homes,” the judge reportedly said. “Mr. Tatro was in his own house. And it’s up to the rest of the world to respect people in their homes. You didn’t do that. I don’t know why you didn’t. And you got everything. aggravated by arming yourself with a gun. And then using it. The crime itself is so egregious. It’s so egregious that it resulted in the death of a human being.
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