After an attempted murder trial, Julius Irving uses his life experiences to set goals for himself.
His checklist says: grow his wealth. Be there for his family. Change people’s perception of those who look like him.
The 34-year-old East Gainesville resident was homeless, addicted to drugs and unemployed after he was charged. He had nothing to guide him but his faith.
He and his family were caught in between months of postponed jury selections and trials. Almost half of his jury selections and trial status appointments were canceled at least once due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Irving, who was accused of stabbing a coworker at Krispy Kreme in 2019, couldn’t apply for jobs without employers knowing about his pending charges.
Now, seven months after his trial, he still can’t find employment. This pushed Irving to start Never Work Again, a brand for his multiple businesses. He gets most of his income from reselling Amazon products but also does some commissioned tattoos and artwork.
“On the surface, I've been doing good,” Irving said. “I've started my own business. I’m no longer homeless. I have my own place now. I have a car now.”
But he lives paycheck to paycheck and barely has enough money for anything aside from his bills. Since he heard the words “not guilty,” he considers every obstacle a life lesson.
“I use that to encourage myself,” Irving said. “I don't care what situation I’m in — depressing or whatever. I can't let myself, I can't allow myself [to be upset] because I'm so blessed.”
Irving struggles to accept that others face the same situation he was in months before.
“The fact that I could be at work, in my uniform on the clock in an employee-only area, and then still viewed as the perpetrator ... that always bothered me,” Irving said.
As a Black man taller than 6 feet, he knows some may view him as a threat. He believes this is why he was accused of attempted murder when he used a knife to defend himself in a fight.
Irving and his coworker, Olivia Zavalza, got into an argument at work and she called him racial slurs. She then called her boyfriend, Anthony James Jr., and a fight ensued between the two.
James Jr. had four stab wounds when police found him, and Irving had a 4 inch blade in his possession, according to the police report.
The defense applied the state’s Stand Your Ground law, which means that a person who is attacked in a place where they have a right to be, such as their work, has the right to “meet force with force.”
He believes other people can see the injustice surrounding his case, too. After the case ended, some jurors created a private Facebook group to connect with Irving.
“Everybody couldn't believe that [the case] even made it to trial,” Irving said. “They saw how unfair the court system is.”
The trial wasn’t the only thing that took a mental toll on him. He’s also mourning the death of loved ones.
His father died following a positive COVID-19 test — a day after his trial. His best friend was hit by a car and killed while on a moped. Several of his cousins died from COVID-19-related complications.
It added a lot of pressure on him. But it didn’t entirely push him away from activism.
Irving was recently chosen as one of the six 2021-2022 Community Spring fellows, a group of low-income activists who work on eliminating structural poverty.
“For this fellowship, our focus point is affordable housing,” Irving said. “We're trying to protect affordable housing here in Alachua County and, hopefully, build a model or plan... [that] could be possibly useful to other people.”
No one ever talks about what happens to defendants after their trials, said Jhody Douglas, Irving’s 37-year-old sister and founder of Legal Empowerment & Advocacy Hub. Irving is doing just that for his community.
“When Julius won, it was almost like we won,” Douglas said. “He was David that went up against the giant.”
The whole process took a toll on Douglas as well, however.
After the trial, people started reaching out to her for legal help. She’s no longer active on social media because of the anxiety that pairs with the surge of messages.
“People reach out to me for legal support, but then it always, undoubtedly, is tied to emotional support,” Douglas said. “I don't have the capacity to support people in the holistic, full approach way that they need. It’s a community issue, so I'm really hoping that that's something we can move towards really soon.”
Tequila McKnight grew up in East Gainesville with Irving. As the participant coordinator of Community Spring, she was involved in selecting him for the fellowship.
“He has been an activist in the community, and he's been a mentor to kids in the community,” she said. “He has a lot of knowledge of what's going on. People in the community can trust him.”
The 45-year-old hopes to see Irving rebound after the trial.
“I'm really happy for him because he could have went a different direction, and that would not have been good for anybody,” McKnight said.
Irving is moving forward with his life — ready to accomplish his goals and free himself from the shackles of a traumatizing case that hung over his head for two years. However, he can’t help but think about what could’ve been if the jury’s ruling omitted “not.”
Contact Jiselle Lee at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jiselle_lee.
Jiselle Lee is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator’s Summer 2023 Editor-In-Chief. She was previously a reporter with NextShark News and a reporting intern at The Bradenton Herald. In her free time, she loves traveling and going to the beach.