Man shot Dec. 6 near Oaks mall dies


Published: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

A man who was shot in The Oaks Mall parking lot in early December died from his injuries on Christmas Day, according to the man's sister.

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Howard "J.R." Shipley

Howard "J.R." Shipley, 46, was shot Dec. 6 while engaged in an argument in the northwest corner of the mall parking lot. David Earl James, 63, told police he felt threatened by Shipley, so he shot Shipley with a .38-caliber revolver he was carrying.

Shipley was taken to Shands at the University of Florida with a gunshot wound to his torso, and Shipley's sister, Debbie Cerullo, said he died Christmas Day.

"He hung on for 19 days," said Cerullo, 44, who lives in Rhode Island. "But in the end, with having a lung removed, half of his liver and some of his abdomen, it was too much for his body to take."

James was initially taken into custody by police for questioning after the shooting, but he was released the next day. A detective at the time said investigators felt the case could be ruled self-defense and that they had not collected enough information to file any charges. Police were also hoping that Shipley would eventually recover enough to give his side of the story.

"He woke up a little bit, but not enough to be able to talk," Cerullo said. "I know (police) were waiting for that."

Lt. Keith Kameg with the Gainesville Police Department said Wednesday that charges still have not been filed against James in connection with the shooting.

"We have spoken with the State Attorney's Office, and a final determination of charges, if any, has not been made," Kameg said. "They've asked us to forward all of our reports to them, which we are doing."

Shipley's sister said, although she understands the police's position, she can't help but wonder if the case really did involve self-defense.

"Here's a guy who just got an apartment, who was just getting his life back together," Cerullo said of her brother. "I don't think he would be looking to start trouble."

Shipley said her brother moved to Florida from Massachusetts about four years ago after a rough divorce in which his child was taken away from him. She said he had been homeless for much of his time in Gainesville, but that he recently secured an apartment.

Cerullo said she questions whether the shooting was self-defense because police told her that James was the one who first approached Shipley and a friend in the parking lot. Police told Cerullo that James shouted profanity at Shipley and his friend, Oswaldo Fernandez, 58, when they didn't immediately get out of the way of his bicycle.

Cerullo also said she first heard of her brother's shooting when one of Shipley's friends called her. The friend told Cerullo that her brother had given him Cerullo's cell phone number because a man had been threatening him and he was afraid that something bad might happen.

"(The friend) told me J.R. was afraid of what might happen, and said, ‚ÄÚcall my sister if anything happens to me,'¬ '' Cerullo said. "He didn't have a good feeling about it."

Cerullo said she hopes the investigation will produce more witnesses who might be able to shed some light on what exactly happened the day her brother was shot.

"He was a citizen. He was a person. He wasn't just this homeless guy who ran around causing trouble," Cerullo said. "He worked very hard to get his life back on track."

Alice Wallace can be reached at 352-338-3109 or alice.wallace@gvillesun.com.

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