Another self-defense murder case, involving race, shakes Florida
Tevin Thompson told a rapt audience in a Jacksonville, Fla., courtroom about the fateful night over Thanksgiving break in 2012 when he and three friends were out on the town. They were in a Dodge Durango and had stopped for gum and cigarettes at a convenience store. A Volkswagen carrying Michael Dunn and his girlfriend pulled up close alongside the parked SUV.
Dunn, 47 and white, asked the black teenagers in the SUV to turn down the loud music, Thompson, 19, testified Friday. Thompson said he turned down the volume but that fellow passenger Jordan Davis, 17, cursed and asked him to turn the music back up.
“It was pretty loud,” Thompson said. “Jordan’s window was a little down. My window was up.”
Davis and Dunn then began arguing. Dunn seemed upset and shouted at the teens to “turn your music down. I can’t hear myself think,” Thompson said at the trial, being broadcast online by local television stations. Thompson said he reached over and turned the volume down but that Davis told him, “Turn the music back.”
Thompson said he could hear all of the words as Dunn and Davis argued. Thompson said he heard Davis cursing but didn’t hear him make any threats.
The driver of the SUV, Tommie Stornes, returned to the vehicle from the convenience store. Before getting into the driver’s seat, he did a little dance to the music, Thompson said. Dunn and Davis continued arguing, and Thompson said he heard Dunn say, “Are you talking to me?”
Dunn then reached down to his right side, pulled out a silver pistol and fired into the door behind which Davis was sitting, Thompson said. Davis was killed.
“Jordan Davis was sitting in his car seat with the door closed with nothing in his hands,” prosecutor John Guy told the jury Thursday. “Michael David Dunn pointed a semiautomatic pistol at four unarmed kids at a distance much closer than you and I.”
There is no dispute that Dunn killed Davis. What is in dispute is whether he acted in self-defense, in another case involving the fiercely contested Florida laws that were a hallmark of the trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder in the shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
An additional self-defense case is pending in Florida involving a former police officer who shot a father in a movie theater after the two argued.
Dunn has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder. He maintains he acted in self-defense, according to the opening statement by defense attorney Cory Strolla. Had Dunn not been armed, he might have been the victim that evening, the lawyer said.
“God didn’t make all men equal. Colt did. Colt is a firearm,” Strolla said. Dunn “had every right under the law to not be a victim, to be judged by 12 rather than carried by six.”
The defense argues that Dunn fired when he saw a weapon -- a shotgun or a stick -- in the vehicle, but the prosecution notes that no weapon was ever found. When police searched the car, prosecutor Guy said in his opening statement, they found a basketball, basketball shoes, some clothing, a camera tripod and cups on the floor but “no weapons.”
The defense maintains the teens left the gas station and stopped in an adjacent lot before returning to call police. They had “ample time to get rid of a firearm or pipe,” Strolla said. Witness Thompson described leaving and returning but made no mention of disposing of any weapon.
After the shooting, which occurred in two waves, totaling 10 shots in all, Dunn and his girlfriend, Rhonda Rouer, drove 40 miles south to St. Augustine, where they had reservations at a bed and breakfast.
Once there, Guy said, Dunn ordered pizza, “took his little dog for a walk,” ordered a movie and “poured a big, tall drink -- rum and Coke.”
“They had cellphones, but they didn’t call 911. He didn’t drive to a police substation,” Guy said. “That defendant put his head on his hotel pillow and went to sleep.”
In the morning, Rouer saw a news report about a shooting at a Jacksonville gas station in which a 17-year-old had been killed, and, rather than call police, the couple packed their bags and drove 130 miles home to Satellite Beach, where Dunn was apprehended, Guy said.
The defense argued that Rouer, not Dunn, was the one who ordered the pizza and who insisted on going to Satellite Beach.
The first days of the trial have been devoted to the prosecution side; the defense is expected to present its case next week.
Prosecutors have played a surveillance video and the shots can be heard, a burst of three, then seven more. Three of the shots hit Davis.
On Friday, Officers Robert Holmes and Dawn Valentine of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said they found Davis, of Marietta, Ga., slumped against another young man in the back seat of the SUV. Blood was coming from his back, Holmes said.
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