A Florida jury could not reach a verdict on the most serious charge facing Michael Dunn, a first degree murder charge for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Jordan Davis after a dispute over loud music at a Jacksonville convenience store. Nevertheless, Dunn is all but certain to face a lengthy prison sentence as he was convicted on three counts of attempted second degree murder — one for each of three of Dunn’s friends who were also in the line of fire as Dunn fired ten rounds into their sport utility vehicle.
The judge declared a mistrial on the first degree murder count, leaving prosecutors the option of seeking a new trial.
The Florida shooting was the most prominent fatal shooting of a teen in self-defense since the death of Trayvon Martin drew national attention to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. The law was also cited in Dunn’s trial.
The shooting occurred after Dunn asked the boys to turn down their music while parked next to him in a Jacksonville convenience store parking lot. His fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, says the last thing she heard him say was, “I hate that thug music.” Rouer was in the convenience store when she heard gunshots, and when she ran outside, he told her to get in the car and they drove away.
Dunn claimed he saw a gun and believed the boys were armed and dangerous. But police found no gun in the car. He said he heard Davis threaten to kill him, and responded by rolling down the window of his car and asking, “Are you talking to me?” Dunn and Rouer spent the night in a hotel, as planned, and their testimony differed about what happened that night, and in the days that followed. Dunn’s friends testified that they knew him as a calm and non-violent man.
During closing arguments, prosecutor John Guy told jurors, “Jordan Davis didn’t have a weapon. He had a big mouth. And that defendant wasn’t gonna stand for it. And it cost Jordan Davis his life.”
Dunn’s lawyer Cory Strolla cited Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in his closing argument, “His honor will further tell you that if Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” As in the George Zimmerman trial, the Stand Your Ground law was included in the jury instructions.
Alluding to public controversy of the law, Strolla added, “It’s not because I wrote it. It’s not cause I like it. We’re not here to change it and we’re not here to fight it. We’re here to apply it.”
When asked about the relevance of the law to this case during a press conference, Strolla told reporters that he “strategically” decided not to seek a separate Stand Your Ground hearing that could have given Dunn immunity before trial, because of the national media attention. He claimed the law was therefore not relevant to the case. But the jurors were nonetheless advised to consider the law when deciding Dunn’s guilt, by both Strolla and in the jury instructions.
Just prior to the trial, the State Attorney’s Office released a set of letters Dunn sent from prison revealing significant animus toward blacks. “The more time I am exposed to these people, the more prejudiced against them I become,” he said in one. “This jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs,” he said in another. The letters did not come into play during trial. But they reveal the sort of racial undertones that have been prominent in many Stand Your Ground cases. One study found that white defendants with black victims are far more likely to have their killings deem “justified” under the Stand Your Ground law.