Over the weekend, another high-profile trial involving a teenager who was shot to death in Florida concluded. Michael Dunn was convicted on some of the lesser charges and could spend decades in prison. But the jury was deadlocked on the charge of first-degree murder against Dunn for shooting Jordan Davis. This verdict came seven months after George Zimmerman was acquitted on all charges for killing Trayvon Martin. (Dunn, like Zimmerman, was prosecuted by State Attorney Angela Corey, which could mean additional scrutiny for Corey and her office if there is a retrial.)
In case you missed any details over the holiday weekend or haven’t been following the story, here’s a primer on the shooting, what happened this weekend and what’s ahead for this case.
I’ve heard about this but don’t really know the full story. What is this trial about?
In November 2012, Michael Dunn shot 17-year-old Jordan Davis in a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station parking lot. Dunn had approached a Dodge Durango holding Davis and three other teenagers and asked them to turn down their music. (Hence the “loud music trial” designation attached to this case.) An argument developed, and Dunn fired 10 times at the vehicle, including multiple shots fired as it pulled away.
Davis died almost immediately after he was hit. Police testified that two other teenagers in the car narrowly avoided being shot.
Dunn, who was in town for a wedding, returned to his hotel and drove back home to Brevard County the following morning; he was arrested later that day.
The case drew additional attention to Florida’s broad self-defense laws and sparked comparisons with the killing of Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Martin and Davis were both black teenagers shot to death in Florida by men who said they felt their lives were in danger. George Zimmerman was acquitted last summer on all charges related to Martin’s shooting.
What happened at the end of the trial?
Dunn was found guilty on three counts of attempted second-degree murder. He was also found guilty of shooting into an occupied car. The jury deadlocked on the charge of first-degree murder, so the judge declared a mistrial on that count.
Why wasn’t the jury able to acquit or convict Dunn on the first-degree murder charge?
We don’t know for sure, because jurors have declined to talk to the media (so far). Dunn testified that he shot Davis after the teenager pointed a shotgun at him. Police never found the shotgun, no other witnesses said they saw it and Dunn’s fiancee testified that he never mentioned seeing a gun. But Florida law states that a person “has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”
The “reasonably believes” part of the law has been cited as a possible explanation for the jury’s division. “A person in that position doesn’t have to see something (an actual weapon), but there has to be reasonable fear,” State Attorney Angela Corey said after the verdict. “That’s the way Florida law reads.”
So what happens after the mistrial?
Corey said after the verdict was announced that her office plans to retry Dunn on the first-degree murder charge. Corey, who also prosecuted the George Zimmerman case, said she intended to push for having the new trial in Jacksonville.
“Retrying a case is something that we’ve had to do and will continue to have to do, and we’ll give it the same full attention,” Corey said during a news conference on Saturday.
What jurors say about their doubts if they speak out will be important in establishing what could happen at any future trial, and could become part of the ongoing discussion about self-defense laws in Florida and other states. It’s important to note that jurors also had the option of convicting Dunn of second-degree murder or manslaughter, which they did not do after deliberating for more than 30 hours. Corey said she hoped jurors would come forward and speak to prosecutors to shed light on what prosecutors could do better.
“Until we know why they were a hung jury, we wouldn’t know what to adjust,” Corey said.
A new trial could take place later this year.
What will happen with the attempted murder convictions?
A sentencing date will be set at a hearing next month. The convictions for these charges mean Dunn could be sentenced to 60 years in prison, which would effectively be a life sentence for the 47-year-old man.