PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — All Jeffery Bleakley wanted was for his brother-in-law to walk down the street and leave him alone.
That’s not what happened.
Bleakley (it’s pronounced like Blakely) shot and killed Tony Tate outside Tate’s parent’s home in December of 2018. Bleakley was charged with murder but a year later, Circuit Judge Christopher Patterson ruled that Bleakley, a retired Army officer, had lawfully stood his ground and dismissed the criminal charges.
In an exclusive interview with News 13, Bleakley and his attorney Waylon Graham, talked about what happened that night and the aftermath of the homicide.
“A genuine tragedy.”Defense Attorney Waylon Graham
For years, while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, Tony Tate threatened to kill Bleakley and other family members. Bleakley said he even got a restraining order after Tate punched his wife while Bleakley was deployed overseas.
“There’s times he’d be like, ‘look I got my throwing knives’ and stuff like that. His favorite thing to carry was a tire iron or a railroad spike,” Bleakley said.
One Thanksgiving Tate created a hit list and put it up so other family members could see.
“He walked into a Thanksgiving meal a few years back posted it right on the wall. He said who in the family he was gonna kill. I was one of them. Right at the top,” Bleakley recalled
The fuse was finally lit on December 30 when Tate’s parents tried to evict him from their home. Tate did not take the news well he started yelling and threatening to kill them. Bleakley’s wife was inside the home and he was outside. Bleakley grabbed a handgun and waited outside.
He said he did not want to confront Tate but he also did not want to leave his wife and her parents completely alone with them. When Tate walked outside Bleakley said he tried to hide in the darkness in hopes that Tate would leave without seeing him.
“Just walk on down the street just cuss and swear as you’re walking the other direction. Cause that was normally what had happened in the past,” Bleakley said. “So I tried to go back in the shadows and hopefully he wouldn’t notice me. He did.”
Tate threatened to kill Bleakley.
“He said, ‘Your next, you sum bitch,'” Bleakley said. “That’s when I cocked the weapon.”
Bleakley said when Tate started coming towards him he shot him. He pointed out that it was dark and he had no idea if Tate had a weapon.
Tate always bragged about carrying weapons, including a shiv and throwing knives, Bleakley said. One time, he threatened Bleakley with a railroad spike.
“His favorite thing to carry was a tire iron or a railroad spike,” Bleakley said.
After the shooting Bleakley said he was numb. He walked inside and checked his gun.
“I was shocked I was out of ammo,” Bleakley said. “I didn’t realize I had shot that many times. I didn’t realize I had fired that much.”
Panama City Police investigators determined that Bleakley had not acted in self-defense. They pointed out that Bleakley’s story did not match the physical evidence at the scene and that Tate was holding a pillow when Bleakley shot him. He was arrested and charged with murder.
Bleakley said he never wanted any of this
“I really would just never want to harm a human being,” Bleakley said. “I would kind of stipulate this. Why would I want to? I had a job making more than 70,000 a year and I was getting disability from the VA as well and I was living a pretty good life and I was at a point where I was almost completely debt-free and ready to start rebuilding my home.”
He added that even after everything Tate had done he did not lash out in anger.
“I don’t hate anybody,” Bleakley said. “I hate the fact that he was an alcoholic and I hate the fact, what I truly hate was that there wasn’t some way we couldn’t have got him help to get him cured to make him a better person to those around him and a productive member of society.”
Graham said after learning the details of the case he believed Bleakley was caught up in a true tragedy. His instincts were supported by the reaction of Tate’s family members.
“The family of the decedent was on Mr. Bleakleys’ side and they came to me and told me that this man was a good man and what he did he did to protect himself and to protect that family,” Graham said. “The individual that wound up having to be shot that night was just an out of control individual who had abused his body for decades with drugs and alcohol and had terrorized this family that he married into.”
Graham also pointed to Bleakley’s military record which included two decades of service in the Navy and the Army. He served overseas in Iraq and was injured several times while defending the country. His last injury was caused by an IED. Bleakley retired from the Army as a captain.
Judge Patterson noted Bleakley’s service record, Tate’s past actions and the testimony from Tate’s own family when he dismissed the charges.
“In darkness and with an enraged victim approaching, the defendant acted reasonably to protect himself and those he loved,” Patterson wrote.
Although he was exonerated Bleakley’s life was forever changed that night. He was fired from his job as a Verizon store manager. That caused an ongoing financial hardship that Bleakley is still dealing with.
However, Bleakley said he knows other people lost something.
“A mother lost a son. You know, a sister lost a brother,” he said. “It’s still their brother. It’s still their son.”