Juror from the Michael Dunn trial explains the deadlock

Jacob Black ducks his head behind a sign he's holding for his mom outside the Duval County Courthouse on Saturday, Feb. 15. (Florida Times-Union, Kelly Jordan/Associated Press)
Jacob Black ducks his head behind a sign he’s holding for his mother outside the Duval County Courthouse on Feb. 15. (Kelly Jordan/ Florida Times-Union via Associated Press)

In the wake of the verdict in the so-called “loud music” trial — which involved another unarmed black teenager shot and killed in Florida by another adult who claimed self defense — the reaction from many has been some version of: Again? 

“For the second time in six months, the world stood still for countless people awaiting a verdict from Florida,” Khyla D. Craine wrote.

There were differences between the trial of George Zimmerman last year and the recent trial of Michael Dunn, of course. The biggest difference: Zimmerman was acquitted on all charges for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, so Zimmerman walked free. Michael Dunn, who shot and killed Jordan Davis, was convicted over the weekend on multiple charges (for shooting at the car containing Davis and three other teens). So while the jury deadlocked on the pivotal first-degree murder charge, the 47-year-old Dunn is facing 60 years in prison.

Still, the feeling remains. And as Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote, it was an old movie playing out again:

Indeed, the verdict was mystifying. Dunn was found guilty on three counts of attempted murder — meaning the three other young men in the SUV with Davis — but the jury deadlocked on the murder charge. It makes no sense: If Dunn is guilty of the three charges, how can he not be guilty of the fourth?

The jury’s inability to hold him accountable for Davis’ death only validates African Americans’ grimmest misgivings about the “just us” system.

Shortly after the verdict, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote at the Atlantic:

I wish I had something more to say about the fact that Michael Dunn was not convicted for killing a black boy. Except I said it after George Zimmerman was not convicted of killing a black boy.

Only the members of the jury can explain why they were deadlocked. So far, only one juror from the trial has spoken publicly. The juror, identified only as Valerie (and Juror No. 4), told ABC News that she believes Dunn got away with murder.

When the jury first took a poll, 10 of the 12 jurors thought Dunn was guilty, she said. The other two believed the shooting was in self-defense. The nearly 30 hours of deliberations leading up to the mistrial included heated moments, with jurors loudly arguing with one another, she said.

In the end, three jurors thought Dunn acted in self-defense, Valerie said.

The jury was unanimous on the attempted murder charges, finding him guilty for firing at the other three teenagers in the car (who narrowly avoided being hit, police said, with one bullet hitting a sun visor next to the driver’s head). But the jury has been criticized for failing to reach a unanimous verdict on the biggest charge.

Valerie, who said she spoke out because of the reaction to the case on social media and elsewhere, explained that Dunn getting out of his car and continuing to shoot helped the jury members make up their minds on the other charges.

“We had a lot of discussion on him getting out of the car,” she said. “The threat is now gone. And your intent is yet to still go ahead and pursue this vehicle.”

State attorney Angela Corey, who prosecuted Zimmerman and Dunn, plans to retry Dunn. She said on CNN this morning that she disagreed with the notion that young black men aren’t being protected by the law.

“The focus needs to be on all violence against all races, all ages,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter who’s on either side of that gun, it’s all a violation of Florida law if the facts are supported by what the law says is illegal.”

It’s “completely false” that the legal outcomes would have been different had the races of the people involved been reversed in the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis cases, Corey said.

“Until the media focuses on all cases, or a sampling of all cases, the public will never understand that that simply is not true,” she said. “Trayvon Martin’s death was a tragedy, Jordan Davis’s death was a tragedy. All victims who die at the hand of illegal actions are tragedies, and we need to put the focus on all of them, not just isolated cases.”

Corey said she understands the outrage people feel, but added that the state has a high burden of proof in cases where people claim self-defense.

“Self-defense is a tough law for us to overcome,” she said.

She also stressed that that the prosecutors will retry Dunn, who will spend several decades in prison.

“How anyone could be unhappy with these verdicts, knowing we intend to retry count one, is beyond me,” she said.

Still, the feeling persists. After the verdict was announced, the Twitter hashtag #DangerousBlackKids has been flooded with images like these:

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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Mark Berman · February 20