Florida man faces 60 years in jail over loud music shooting

Florida man faces 60 years in jail over loud music shooting

Credit: Associated Press

Florida man faces 60 years in jail over loud music shooting

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wwltv.com

Posted on February 16, 2014 at 4:15 AM

Updated Sunday, Feb 16 at 12:22 PM

Rick Neale / USA Today

JACKSONVILLE — Michael David Dunn faces at least 60 years inside a prison cell for firing 10 bullets toward a group of teenagers in a sport-utility vehicle during an escalating argument over booming rap music in a gasoline station parking lot.

But they deadlocked on whether Dunn murdered Jordan Davis, 17, when he shot at the SUV. Three of the nine bullets that hit the car struck Davis, who was in the rear passenger seat. The gunfire missed the other teens.

After almost 32 hours of deliberations over four days -- on the eve of what would have been Davis's 19th birthday -- a Duval County jury convicted Dunn on three counts of second-degree attempted murder Saturday night. Assistant State Attorney Erin Wolfson said each count carries a 20-year minimum mandatory sentence. These sentences must run consecutively, said Jackelyn Barnard, spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office.

Jurors also convicted Dunn, 47, of shooting or throwing a deadly missile. This felony is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, Wolfson said.

The trial was the latest Florida case to raise questions about self-defense and race; Dunn is white and the teens were black. It came six months after George Zimmerman was acquitted of any crime for fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, about 125 miles south of Jacksonville. The Dunn trial was prosecuted by the same State Attorney's Office as was the Zimmerman case.

The case is not likely over.

Circuit Judge Russell Healey declared a mistrial on the first-degree murder count. State Attorney Angela Corey said after the verdict that her office would retry Dunn for first-degree murder.

Davis' parents each left the courtroom in tears.

Dunn showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. But afterwards, he turned to his lawyer, Cory Strolla, and asked, "How is this happening?"

"Obviously, my client is devastated at the outcome. Never saw it coming one bit," Strolla said. "So it's hard. It's hard for the family. I know his family's devastated."

Circuit Judge Russell Healey ordered a pre-sentence investigation report, which takes about a month to prepare. Afterward, the attorneys will meet at 9 a.m. March 24 to schedule a sentencing date.

Dunn, 47, is a South Patrick Shores computer programmer and software developer. The shooting occurred after Dunn and his fiancee, Rhonda Rouer, left the Nov. 23, 2012, wedding reception of Dunn's son, Christopher, in Orange Park. Dunn stopped at a Gate gasoline station so Rouer could buy wine and chips, and he parked next to the SUV Davis and his three friends were sitting in.

Dunn and Davis got into an escalating argument over loud rap music booming from the SUV, and Dunn fired three volleys of bullets at the vehicle. Why? The prosecution and defense offered greatly different motivations for Dunn's actions.

During the trial, Strolla called his client's actions a clear-cut case of self-defense. Dunn testified on the witness stand that he saw Davis reach down in the rear-passenger seat, pick up an object resembling a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun, open his door and say, "This (expletive)'s going down now!" Dunn repeatedly said he feared he would be attacked and his life was in danger, so he grabbed his handgun and fired in self-defense.

However, prosecutors portrayed Dunn as a gunman whose "blood started to boil" because an unarmed teenager had disrespected him. After the shooting, they said Dunn drove Rouer back to their hotel, ate pizza, walked his dog and poured a stiff rum and Coke -- without calling 911 or telling Rouer that he thought Davis was armed.

Minutes after the verdicts, Assistant State Attorney Angela Corey announced plans to retry Dunn for first-degree murder.

"When you're seeking justice for four different victims, and you get a verdict that speaks to justice for three of those victims, it makes you more determined to seek justice again for that fourth victim," Corey said.

Strolla vowed to appeal the guilty verdicts, and he will likely seek a change of venue if the murder charge returns to court. He said his defense strategy was hampered by a lack of cash.

"We filed a motion for indigency. We basically were working on a shoestring budget for Mr. Dunn -- and it hurt him. I hate to say that, but it's true," Strolla said.

Dunn's jury was composed of four white men, four white women, two black women, one Asian female and one Hispanic man.

Including meal breaks, the jury deliberated for roughly 3 hours Wednesday, 9 hours Thursday, 10 hours Friday and 10 hours Saturday.

Dozens of demonstrators marched outside the Duval County Courthouse Saturday, shouting "Murder is a crime! Michael Dunn should do the time!" and other chants. They carried colorful signs bearing slogans such as "Our Black Youth Are Beautiful," "Justice For Jordan," and "The Only One With A Gun Was Dunn."

Dunn and Rouer started dating in May 2008, and they had just renewed their annual lease at Ocean Residence North before his arrest. This oceanfront townhouse complex is roughly a half-mile south of the Pineda Causeway.

Dunn told jurors he enjoyed living there, and his community boasted "an eclectic group" of young people, surfers, retirees and Patrick Air Force Base personnel.

He showed little emotion during his murder trial. But on the witness stand, he up, fought back tears and wiped nose and mouth with white cloth when he talked about Rouer and Charlie, their puppy.

Jury deliberations resumed about 9 a.m. Saturday. At 10:03 a.m., Healey called jurors into the courtroom to answer a trio of their technical questions. To the first, he told them that a "self-defense" defense is separate for each person in each count. To the second, he said the jury must determinine if deadly force is justified against each person in each count.

Jurors also asked: If we determine deadly force is justified against one person, then is it justified against the others?

"No, self-defense and justifiable use of deadly force applies separately to each count," Healey replied.

Nearly seven hours passed, and deliberations approached the 30-hour mark. Then at 4:37 p.m., a buzz swept through spectators and journalists on the fourth floor that "something is happening," and they hurried into the courtroom.

Three minutes later, Healey said that the jury had passed along a note announcing it had reached a verdict on four of the five counts. However, jurors said they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on Count 1 -- first-degree murder -- or any of its lesser potential offenses.

Healey then brought the jurors into the courtroom and recited them an Allen charge, which is an instruction to continue deliberations and make a decision.

"I have only one request of you. By law, I cannot demand this of you, but I want you to go back into the jury room. Then, taking turns, tell each of the other jurors about any weaknesses of your own position. You should not interrupt each other or comment on each other's views until each of you has had a chance to talk," Healey said.

"After you've done that, if you simply cannot reach a verdict, then return to the courtroom and I will declare this case mistried as to that count, and will discharge you with my sincere appreciation for your services," he said.

Davis's father, Ron, said his son was a good kid.

"Michael Dunn has got minimums of 20 years on one count. Another 20 years on another count. Another minimum 20 years on another count," Ron Davis said.

"So he's going to learn that he must be remorseful for the killing of my son."

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