By Michael Muskal
Los Angeles Times(MCT)
A jury has found Michael Dunn, the Florida man accused of shooting an unarmed teenager to death during a dispute over loud music, guilty of four charges, but the jury was unable to reach a decision on the top count, first-degree murder.
Dunn, who is white, fired 10 shots into an SUV, killing Jordan Davis, 17, who was black. The shooting in a convenience store parking lot in Jacksonville, Fla., erupted after Dunn asked the teenagers in the vehicle to turn down their music.
Dunn was charged with first-degree murder, three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of firing into a vehicle in the Nov. 23, 2012, shooting. The jury couldn’t reach a decision on the first-degree murder charge, but convicted on the other four.
Dunn contended he acted in self-defense. Prosecutors suggested that Dunn, 47, was angry because he was being disrespected by a young black man.
Dunn was remanded to the custody of authorities. Sentencing, which could total as much as 75 years in prison, was set for around March 24.
The sequestered jury began its deliberations Wednesday, a week after opening statements began. That Dunn had fired into the SUV and killed Davis was never in question. What the jury had to determine was whether Dunn had acted in self-defense.
The proceedings are the latest in a series of murder cases with claims of self-defense that have roiled Florida and garnered national attention. George Zimmerman, who identifies as Latino, was acquitted of murdering an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, during a confrontation on Feb. 26, 2012. Another case, involving a former police captain accused of killing a man in a movie theater after a dispute over texting, is working its way through the courts.
As in the Zimmerman case, race has been a subtext in the Dunn trial. Prosecutors maintained that Dunn repeatedly shot at the black teenagers because they were playing their hip-hop music too loudly.
“This defendant was disrespected by a 17-year-old teenager, and he lost it. He wasn’t happy with Jordan Davis’ attitude. What was his response? ‘You’re not going to talk to me like that,’ ” Assistant State Attorney Erin Wolfson said. “He took these actions because it was premeditated. It was not self-defense.”
But Dunn’s attorney, Cory Strolla, pressed the self-defense claim and argued that Dunn had a right to shoot if he reasonably thought he was in danger.
“We understand Jordan Davis was human and this was a tragedy,” Strolla said. The attorney added later, “Deadly force is justifiable if Dunn reasonably believed he faced an attempted murder of himself or another.”
Florida’s “stand your ground” law allows the defense to seek a special hearing to receive immunity from prosecution before a trial. Dunn did not choose to go that route, but argued that he had acted in self-defense because he thought there was a weapon in the car and he feared for his life.
In his summation, Strolla said prosecutors had failed to prove their murder case or to disprove Dunn’s assertion that he acted in self-defense. He described that as “two mountains” the jurors had to climb before deciding to convict Dunn.
“Not one single witness said (Dunn) showed any signs of anger,” Strolla said. He said there were no signs that Dunn was planning to do anything violent and instead just wanted the volume lowered. Strolla said Dunn fired only when he saw Davis wielding a weapon from inside the Dodge Durango SUV and felt threatened.
Police didn’t find a weapon in the SUV, but Strolla contended that the teens got rid of it during the three minutes they were in an adjacent parking lot after fleeing the gunshots. He said detectives should have immediately gone to the area and searched but failed to do so.
Dunn has argued that the case was all about self-defense and that he was fearful for himself and his fiancee, Rhonda Rouer. In his testimony, Dunn told jurors he was in Jacksonville with Rouer to attend his son’s wedding. At one point in testimony, Dunn wiped away tears.
Dunn said he and Rouer went to the convenience store for wine and chips. He said he pulled in next to the SUV. “My rear-view mirror was shaking. My eardrums were vibrating. It was ridiculously loud,” he said Tuesday during several hours of testimony.
He said he asked the teenagers to turn down the music, which they did. But the volume soon rose again. Dunn described how he heard someone in the car use a derogatory term describing whites in the South.
Dunn said the men in the SUV had “menacing expressions.” The situation quickly escalated into an expletive-laden confrontation. Dunn testified that he saw what he thought was 4 inches of a shotgun barrel.
One of the teens stepped out of the SUV, Dunn said, and he felt “this was a clear and present danger.” Prosecutors dispute that anyone ever left the vehicle.
Dunn reached for a 9-millimeter pistol in his glove compartment and fired nine shots in two volleys into the SUV, killing Davis. A 10th shot missed the vehicle.
The SUV drove off to a nearby area, but returned to the gas station. The defense maintains that the break was enough time to allow any weapon to be discarded and that police didn’t search that area for days.
Dunn said he drove away with Rouer and his dog. The couple went back to their hotel and had pizza, and the dog was walked.
Dunn testified that he didn’t call the police because his focus was on Rouer, whom he described as being in hysterics. The next morning, Rouer insisted she wanted to go home and they drove to Brevard County, 175 miles away.
Dunn, who said he had learned of Davis’ death after leaving the scene, said he contacted a neighbor who works in law enforcement for advice on how to turn himself in.
Rouer testified that Dunn never told her about seeing a gun in the SUV, a point that prosecutor John Guy emphasized in his cross-examination Tuesday.
“You never told the love of your life that those guys had a gun,” Guy said. “Did you?”
Dunn responded, “You were not there.”
Guy also suggested that Dunn was angry because he was being disrespected by a young black man.
Dunn responded, “I was being threatened, not disrespected.”
“Jordan Davis didn’t have a weapon. He had a big mouth,” Assistant State Attorney Guy said in his summation to the jury Wednesday. “That man wasn’t going to stand for it, and it cost Jordan Davis his life.”
Chart showing rise in number of justifiable homicides in Florida since the passage of the stand-your-ground law; includes map of the state showing concealed weapons permits by county.