Jury Reaches Partial Verdict in Florida Killing Over Loud Music

Lizette Alvarez, New York Times, February 16, 2014

After four days of deliberation, the jury in the racially tinged trial of Michael Dunn, a Florida man who set off another firestorm over the state’s self-defense laws when he shot a teenager to death in a parking lot during a dispute over loud music, said it could not agree on whether Mr. Dunn had acted to protect himself or was guilty of murder.

The jurors did find Mr. Dunn guilty of three counts of second-degree attempted murder for getting out of his car and firing several times at the Dodge Durango sport utility vehicle in which Jordan Davis, 17, was killed. Three other teenagers, the subjects of the attempted murder charges, were in the car but were not struck. Mr. Dunn continued to fire at the vehicle even as it pulled away. On the attempted murder convictions, he could be sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Judge Russell L. Healey of Duval County declared a mistrial on the count of first-degree murder, which applied only in the death of Mr. Davis. The jury also failed to reach agreement on lesser charges that are automatically included in jury instructions. Those were second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter.

The state attorney for Jacksonville, Angela Corey, said immediately after the verdict that she planned to retry Mr. Dunn on first-degree murder. Ms. Corey said she hoped jurors would explain why they could not agree on that charge, which could help her team in the new trial.

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The case was steeped in racial overtones. Mr. Dunn, 47, is white, and the teenagers black. It also drew renewed attention to Florida’s expansive self-defense laws that allow people who say they feel threatened to use lethal force to protect themselves. The trial began six months after the verdict in another high-profile case that focused on race, in which George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of a black teenager, Trayvon Martin.

The 12 jurors, who had been sequestered since Feb. 6, consisted of four white men, four white women, two black women, one Hispanic man and one Asian-American woman. Some black leaders expressed disappointment that there were no black men on the jury.

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The prosecutors had argued that Mr. Dunn did not shoot Mr. Davis in self-defense, as he testified. He shot him, they said, because he was enraged that when he asked the teenagers to turn down the music booming from their vehicle in a gas station parking lot—Mr. Dunn described it to his fiancée as “thug music”—Mr. Davis did not do so and then cursed him repeatedly.

Mr. Dunn, who was visiting from out of town, left the scene and did not call 911 or the police after the shooting. Instead, he returned to his hotel, and the next morning drove two and a half hours to his home in Brevard County. The prosecutors said his behavior did not jibe with the actions of a man who had fired in self-defense. They also argued that Mr. Dunn had had enough time to reflect before shooting, which was why they accused him of premeditated murder.

Coming on the heels of the failure to convict Mr. Zimmerman in July, the verdict was a blow to Ms. Corey, who was the special prosecutor in the Zimmerman case.

“The verdict won’t sit well with the black community in Jacksonville,” said Ken Jefferson, a vice president for Operation Save Our Sons, a group that tries to help young men in Jacksonville, where blacks make up 30 percent of the population. “There is a feeling of being able to shoot black people and get away with it,” he said, particularly after the Zimmerman case.

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Mr. Dunn, who testified on Tuesday, told jurors that Mr. Davis had pointed a shotgun at him from the window of the Durango, threatened to kill him and then tried to get out of the car. It was only then, Mr. Dunn said, that he reached into his glove box, unholstered his 9-millimeter pistol, put a round in the chamber, and fired 10 times.

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The prosecutors argued that Mr. Dunn had fabricated his story about the shotgun to bolster his self-defense claim. The police never found a shotgun, and no witnesses ever reported seeing one. The teenagers testified that none of them had a shotgun in the car. That was why no one shot back at Mr. Dunn, the prosecutors said.

The trial, which lasted six days before deliberations began on Wednesday, was the latest courtroom test for Florida’s expansive self-defense statutes, including the so-called Stand Your Ground provision. Under the law, Mr. Dunn needed only to have been convinced that he saw a shotgun, whether or not one was present.

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In what prosecutors called a “wow” trial moment, the fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, shaking on the witness stand, said that Mr. Dunn had not mentioned to her in the night and day they spent together before his arrest that any of the teenagers had a shotgun. Ms. Rouer was inside the gas station convenience store when the shooting occurred.

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