Jurors on Wednesday received the murder case of Michael Dunn, the Florida man accused of shooting an unarmed black teenager during a dispute over loudly played music.
The sequestered jury began its work by choosing a foreperson before beginning to consider the case.
In the prosecution's closing argument Wednesday, Assistant State Atty. Erin Wolfson told jurors that Jordan Davis, 17, was unarmed when Dunn, 47, fired 10 shots at an SUV in which Davis was sitting. Wolfson said no witnesses saw any of the four teenagers in the vehicle with a weapon and that police searches turned up none.
Dunn faces five charges, including first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder, in the November 2012 shooting at a Jacksonville, Fla., convenience store and gas station. The jury can also consider lesser charges. If convicted of the major counts, Dunn could spend the rest of his life in prison.
The proceedings are the latest in a series of self-defense cases that have rocked Florida and garnered national attention. George Zimmerman, who defined himself as a 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 maintain that Dunn, who is white, repeatedly shot because the teenagers, who are black, 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,' " prosecutor 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 the state had failed to prove its 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 this man [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 his gun only when he saw Davis wielding a weapon from inside the Durango SUV and felt threatened. “He's had that gun for 20 years and never pulled it once,” Strolla said. “He told you that nobody has ever scared him, no one has ever threatened him like that.”
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. In his testimony, Dunn told jurors he was in Jacksonville with fiancee Rhonda Rouer to attend his son's wedding. He had brought along his 7-month-old dog, and at one point in testimony, Dunn wiped away tears when he talked about them both.
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,” Dunn said in several hours of testimony Tuesday.
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 racial 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 four inches of a barrel he believed to be part of a shotgun.
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 eventually reached for his legal 9-millimeter pistol in the glove compartment and fired nine shots in two volleys into the SUV, killing Davis. Dunn fired a 10th shot, but it 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 the dog. The couple went back to their hotel and had pizza. The dog was walked.
Dunn testified that he didn't call the police because his focus was on the well-being of Rouer, whom he described as in hysterics. The next morning, Rouer insisted she wanted to go home and they drove back to Brevard County, 175 miles away.
There, Dunn, who said he had learned of Davis' death after leaving the scene, said he contacted a neighbor who is in law enforcement for advice on how to turn himself in.
Rouer testified that Dunn never told her about seeing any gun in the SUV, a point that prosecutor John Guy stressed 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.”
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