Photo: Courtesy of Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
There's no question that Michael Dunn killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis when he opened fire on him and a carful of his friends in a Florida parking lot in 2012. And, yet, on Saturday, a Florida jury did the logically impossible: It found Dunn guilty of attempted murder, but it could not reach a verdict on the death for which he is unquestionably responsible.
Maybe the backstory could clear things up.
Two years ago, Dunn, a white 47-year-old software developer, and his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, pulled up to a Jacksonville gas station convenience store, and parked near a Dodge Durango that held Davis and three of his friends, who are black. The car began blasting loud music. "I hate that thug music," Dunn allegedly said. When Rouer went inside the store, a confrontation occurred; Dunn claims he politely asked the young men to turn down the music, but that they shouted expletives at him and threatened him with a shotgun.
At that point, Dunn leaned over to his glove box, unholstered his 9mm pistol and loaded the chamber. (In an interview with police, Dunn claims that he had practiced the maneuver at a gun range, and that he was "an avid gun guy.") Dunn fired a total of 10 times, continuing to shoot as the car pulled out of the parking lot. Davis was hit three times and died shortly after.
When Rouer exited the store, Dunn simply told her to get in the car and took her to the hotel at which they were staying. He didn't call the police or 911, and he didn't tell Rouer anything about the young men having a shotgun — which, by the way, the young men claimed did not exist, and the police never found.
Firing a gun into a car full of teenagers apparently constitutes second-degree attempted murder in Florida, where jurors found Dunn guilty of three counts for which he could face up to 60 years in prison. Justice, in that case, has been served. The jury couldn't come to a decision on the first-degree murder charge, however, and the judge declared a mistrial on that count, which means Dunn will see yet another courtroom.
But, even if Dunn's actions didn't meet all of the qualifications of first-degree murder, the jury also remained deadlocked on lesser charges — including second-degree murder, manslaughter, and justifiable homicide — that were automatically included with the first-degree murder charge.
As The Daily Beast's Jamelle Bouie puts it, "If Dunn had killed Davis and his friends — or if he had killed Davis without shooting afterwards — then, by to the logic of the jury, he would have escaped punishment altogether."
The case has naturally drawn comparison to the killing of Trayvon Martin as well as a discussion of Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law. Critics have frequently claimed that Stand Your Ground had nothing to do with George Zimmerman's defense, but this is simply not true. Ditto in this case, as Dunn's lawyer, Cory Stroll, was explicit in his closing argument: "His honor will further tell you that if Michael Dunn was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in a public place where he had a legal right to be....He had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force."
With that invoked, the prosecution had to prove to the jury that Dunn was not acting in self-defense. And, yet, despite his highly suspicious story — the lack of a gun in the Durango, the fact that he didn't call the police or give his fiancée the full story — the jurors simply could not be convinced.