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Attempted-murder verdict in ‘thug-music’ trial in Florida
A Florida man was convicted Saturday, Feb. 15, of attempted murder for shooting into a carful of teenagers after an argument over what he called their “thug music,” but after more than 30 hours of deliberations, jurors couldn’t agree on the most serious charge of first-degree murde
The Associated Press
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A software developer was convicted Saturday of attempted murder for shooting into a carful of teenagers after an argument over what he called their “thug music,” but jurors couldn’t agree on the most serious charge of first-degree murder.
After more than 30 hours of jury deliberations over four days, a mistrial was declared on the murder charge that Michael Dunn, 47, faced in the fatal shooting of one of the teens. The 12 jurors found him guilty of three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of firing into an occupied car. On the attempted-murder convictions, he could face a sentence of up to 60 years in prison.
Dunn’s attorney, Cory Strolla, said the defendant was shocked when the verdict was read. “He’s in disbelief,” Strolla said. “Even sitting next to me, he said, ‘How is this happening?’ ” He said he plans to appeal.
Dunn was charged with fatally shooting Jordan Davis, 17, of Marietta, Ga., on Nov. 23, 2012, after the argument about music coming from the parked SUV occupied by Davis and three friends, all African American, outside a Jacksonville convenience store. Dunn, who is white, had described the music to his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, as “thug music.”
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 12 jurors, who had been sequestered since Feb. 6, included 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. The deadlock on the murder charge means that at least one person on the jury had reasonable doubt about the prosecution’s version of events.
A sentencing date will be set next month. Each attempted-second-degree-murder charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, while the fourth charge carries a maximum of 15.
Davis’ parents each left the courtroom in tears, and afterward his mother, Lucia McBath, expressed gratitude for the verdict. Sunday would have been her son’s 19th birthday.
“We are so grateful for the charges that have been brought against him,” McBath said of Dunn. “We are so grateful for the truth. We are so grateful that the jurors were able to understand the common sense of it all.”
On Dunn’s potentially lengthy sentence, Davis’ father, Ron Davis, said: “He’s going to learn that he must be remorseful for the killing of my son, that it was not just another day at the office.”
State Attorney Angela Corey said her office planned to retry Dunn on a first-degree murder charge, and she hoped jurors would come forward and tell prosecutors where they questioned their case. Jurors declined to talk to the media.
Earlier in the day, the jurors said in a note to Judge Russell Healey that they were having trouble reaching agreement on the murder charge. He asked them to continue their work, and they went back to deliberate for two more hours.
“I’ve never seen a case where deliberations have gone on for this length of time,” Healey said after the verdict. “They’ve embraced their civic duty and they are to be commended for that.”
Dunn claimed he acted in self-defense, testifying that he thought he saw a shotgun barrel pointed at him from the SUV as Davis yelled insults at him and the argument escalated. No weapon was found in the SUV.
Dunn told jurors he feared for his life, perceiving “this was a clear and present danger.” Dunn, who has a concealed-weapons permit, fired 10 shots, hitting the vehicle nine times.
Prosecutors contended that Dunn opened fire because he felt disrespected by Davis, a high-school senior who had spent the day with three friends at the mall. The teen made his friend turn the music back up after it was initially turned down at Dunn’s request. Dunn was parked in the spot next to the SUV outside the convenience store.
“That defendant didn’t shoot into a carful of kids to save his life. He shot into it to save his pride,” Assistant State Attorney John Guy told the jury last week. “Jordan Davis didn’t have a weapon, he had a big mouth.”
The proceedings are the latest in a series of homicide cases with claims of self-defense that 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, in Sanford, about 125 miles south of Jacksonville.
The Dunn trial was prosecuted by the same State Attorney’s Office that handled the Zimmerman case. 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 was 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.”
Prosecutors argued that Dunn had time to reflect before shooting, which was why they accused him of premeditated murder.
Strolla, Dunn’s attorney, 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.”
Prosecutors argued that Dunn had fabricated his story about the shotgun to bolster his self-defense claim. The police never found a shotgun, and no witnesses reported seeing one. The teenagers testified that none of them had a shotgun in the car — that is why no one shot back at Dunn, the prosecutors said.
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.”
Strolla contended that the teens got rid of the gun 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 told jurors he was in Jacksonville with Rouer to attend his son’s wedding. He said he and Rouer went to the convenience store for wine and chips. He said he pulled in next to the SUV.
“My rearview 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 people 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-mm pistol in his glove compartment and fired nine shots in two volleys into the SUV, killing Davis, who had no criminal record and no drugs or alcohol in his system. A 10th shot missed the vehicle.
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.
Material from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.