Michael Dunn convicted of attempted murder; hung jury on murder
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Florida jury in the case of Michael Dunn found him guilty on four charges, including three for attempted second-degree murder, but they couldn’t reach a verdict on the most significant charge — first-degree murder in the death of Jordan Davis.
After the decisions in the “loud music” trial were read at about 7 p.m. Saturday in court, Judge Russell Healey — who moments before had said that the jury had reached a verdict on all counts — declared a mistrial on the murder count.
That possibility had floated around since 4:45 p.m. Saturday, when the 12 jurors sent a note saying they’d decided on four of the five counts that Dunn faces. But they hadn’t unanimously reached a verdict “on count 1 or any of the lesser included offenses related to it.”
Count 1 is first-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Davis, who like the other teenagers in that SUV was black.
The fact that Dunn is white began a major talking point throughout the case, with some comparing the case to the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin about 120 miles south in Sanford, Florida.
Jurors could have decided not to convict Dunn on that charge but instead find him guilty on lesser charges such as manslaughter. Or they could have acquitted him altogether on this count.
With the hung jury, State Attorney Angela Corey said prosecutors would press for a new trial in Duval County on the murder charge.
“Justice for Jordan Davis is as important as it is for any victim,” Corey said.
Even without a final decision on that count — and pending defense appeals — Dunn appears set to face a lengthy prison term.
The jury convicted him on three counts — one for each of the other teens in the SUV — of attempted second-degree murder. Dunn was also found “guilty of shooting … as charged in the indictment,” according to the jury’s decision read out in court.
Prosecutor Erin Wolfson explained Saturday night that each attempted second-degree murder conviction carries a minimum sentence of at least 20 years. There’s also a 15-year sentence possible on the shooting conviction.
Earlier Saturday, Healey acknowledged that the jury of four white women, two black women, four white men, an Asian woman and a Hispanic man was “struggling, obviously.”
“But it’s not for want of trying to reconcile all of this,” he said then. “I think we’ve got some analytical people in there who are trying to do just that — trying to analyze this from every possible angle.”
As this decision became clear Saturday night — and the other guilty verdicts were read out — Dunn looked ahead solemnly, with a frown.
Lucia McBath said — even without a decision on the murder count tied to Davis, her son — her family is “so very happy to have just a little bit of closure.”
“It’s sad for Mr. Dunn that he will live the rest of his life in that sense of torment, and I will pray for him,” McBath said. “And I’ve asked my family to pray for him.”
Echoes of Trayvon Martin
It was November 23, 2012, when Michael Dunn pulled into a gas station in Jacksonville, parking next to a red SUV full of teenagers.
Loud music was coming from that car, and Dunn expressed his displeasure.
What came next is a subject of dispute. Clearly, there were words exchanged. And without doubt, Dunn ended up opening fire on the vehicle, killing Davis.
But did one of the teens flash a gun? Dunn says so, but prosecutors say that’s not true — pointing to the fact the teens were unarmed. And was the defendant acting in self-defense? Again, the two sides come to opposite conclusions.
Some have compared the Dunn case to the trial of George Zimmerman in the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, which, like the current trial, had racial overtones and claims of self-defense.
Martin’s own parents have said as much, claiming Davis’ killing is another reminder that in Florida, “racial profiling and stereotypes” may serve as the basis for illegitimate fear “and the shooting and killing of young teenagers.”
But Dunn’s defense attorney, Cory Strolla, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Friday that the Zimmerman and Dunn cases aren’t so similar.
There was a physical confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin, and police gave Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt about defending himself, Strolla said.
“My client did not wait to become that victim,” he said. “My client did not wait to either get assaulted by a weapon or have someone potentially pull a trigger,” he said.
Though a weapon was never found, Strolla maintains the youths could have had one. Dunn felt threatened and acted, he said.
“Now, does it sound irrational? Of course it sounds irrational. But have you ever been in that situation?” Strolla asked.
Given the attention and emotions tied to this case, a “comprehensive public safety plan” has been established ahead of a verdict, according to the Duval County joint information center handling the Dunn trial.
“All contingencies have been planned for,” the statement said. “We will not discuss the specifics of any security plan. We will continue to protect the rights of those who choose to peaceably demonstrate.”
Whatever the verdict, Davis’ parents, Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, will never see their son again, they noted, adding, “We know that pain all too well. We walk with Jordan in defining his legacy to reflect our hopes by advancing love and tolerance in his memory, and continuing the fight against unjust gun laws.”
“Tomorrow is my boy’s 19th birthday,” his mother tweeted Saturday. “I pray we will celebrate not only him but a just and righteous verdict. Patiently we wait.”