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"Loud Music" Trial Leaves Jury Silent on First-Degree Murder
On Saturday, February 15, 2014, a jury in Jacksonville, Florida found Michael Dunn guilty of attempted murder in what has been dubbed the "loud music" murder trial. Specifically, the jury convicted Dunn of three counts of attempted murder and one count of firing a weapon into an occupied vehicle. On the final charge of murder in the first degree, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision regarding Dunn's guilt or innocence. As a result, the judge declared a mistrial on the first-degree murder charge.
On November 23, 2012, Michael Dunn shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis. It happened when Dunn - on his way home from his son's wedding - pulled up to a gas station and parked next to an SUV carrying four black teenage males. The teens were playing loud rap music, which Dunn disliked, so he asked that the teens turn the music down.
From there it is unclear as to exactly what transpired. According to Dunn, Davis threatened him and Dunn believed he saw Davis point a gun at him. Dunn, a concealed weapon carrier, pulled out his firearm and fired 10 shots, three of which hit and killed Davis. No other person inside the vehicle was injured. Despite Dunn's claim that Davis had a gun, no weapons were recovered from the SUV.
After the altercation at the gas station, Dunn drove the three miles to his hotel room where he proceeded to order a pizza, take his dog for a walk, and drink a rum and soda. Never during that time did Dunn call the police to report the incident. In fact, Dunn's first interaction with the police was back at his home the following day in Satellite Beach, Florida.
Dunn was originally charged with second-degree murder; however, in December 2012, a grand jury indicted Dunn on the charge of first-degree murder for Davis' death. Had the charges remained solely at second-degree murder, the prosecution would only have to prove at trial that Dunn acted with disregard for human life. The prosecution's job became more difficult with the increased murder charge because they then bore the burden of proving that Dunn acted with the intent to kill when he fired at the SUV. This may be why jurors struggled with reaching an agreement regarding the first-degree murder charge.
Adding more complication to the jury's decision-making process was Florida's self-defense law, which came under fire most recently in the death of Trayvon Martin. As MC&A discussed in our May 2012 Newsletter's coverage of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial, Florida's self-defense law does not require a person to attempt to retreat prior to using deadly force on a perceived attacker. Dunn testified during trial that he shot Davis only after he saw the teen point a shotgun at him through the window, threaten him, and then step out of the SUV. If the jury believed Dunn was in fear of his life and such fear was reasonable, then, according to the law, he was justified in using deadly force. What was likely difficult for the jury in this case is that no gun was ever recovered from the SUV where Davis sat, and when Dunn began firing his gun, no shots were fired back. Given those facts, did the jury believe Dunn was reacted out of a reasonable fear for his life? In this case, it wasn't enough to convince them all one way or the other.
According to the Florida state attorney, prosecutors will move for a new trial on the first-degree murder charge. With the current convictions, 47-year-old Dunn will be facing a minimum of 35 years in prison. Paul Callan, a legal analyst for CNN, pointed out that prosecutors often take a step back after a mistrial to look back and reflect on the case before moving forward with a retrial. In this case, Callan pointed out, "if he winds up with 60 or 75 years in jail, from a pragmatic standpoint it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to retry the case. On the other hand if you're the parents of Jordan Davis . . . [you] might want a retrial, and that's something that a prosecutor has to consider carefully." The prosecution certainly has a big decision to make. Stay tuned to learn about future updates.
Sources: "Dunn convicted of attempted murder; hung jury on murder in 'loud music' trial," by Greg Botelho, Steve Almasy and Sunny Hostin, Feb. 17, 2014, CNN; "Murder Charges Upgraded in Florida Killing of Youth," by Lizette Alvarez, Dec. 14, 2013, The New York Times; "Florida Self-Defense Law Complicated Jury's Job in Michael Dunn Trial," by Lizette Alvarez, Feb. 16, 2014, The New York Times
Dead Man Walking
After spending 30 years on death row, Glenn Ford - Louisiana's longest serving death row inmate - walked out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola a free man on March 11, 2014. Ford was serving time for the November 5, 1983 killing of Isadore Rozeman. Since his arrest, Ford maintained that he was innocent of the crime, having no connection to Rozeman's death whatsoever.
On March 10, 2014, a Louisiana judge ordered Ford be freed from prison after prosecutors presented a petition to the court for his release. Prosecutors had uncovered new information in the case supporting Ford's innocence. Ford was convicted in 1983 by an all-white jury and placed on death row in 1985 for the robbery and murder of Rozeman, who was found shot to death behind the counter of his jewelry shop.
Ford had worked for Rozeman, doing the occasional yardwork for the jeweler, which was the only tie between the two men. After numerous appeals attempts, in 2000, Ford's attorneys were finally able to convince the Louisiana Supreme Court to hold an evidentiary hearing on their claim that the prosecution had suppressed evidence supporting Ford's innocence. That evidence showed that two brothers, Jake and Henry Robinson, were connected to the crime.
However, not until 2013 were prosecutors convinced of the truth behind Ford's claims. According to prosecutors, that was when they received what they termed "credible evidence" that Ford was not involved in Rozeman's murder. Indeed, Louisiana's Shreveport Times reported that in 2013, an unidentified informant told prosecutors that Jake Robinson had confessed to the crime.
Why it took the prosecution so long to bring the information to the attention of the court is unknown. Assistant District Attorney Catherine Estopinal could not comment on the developments leading to the prosecution's motion, simply stating, "I can't go into it." What we do know is that 64 year-old Ford will get to enjoy the next thirty years outside of prison bars and barbed wire fences. This case reminds us all that our justice system, while great, is not without its flaws.
Sources: "Louisiana's longest-serving death row prisoner walks free after 30 years," by Dana Ford, March 12, 2014, CNN; "Glenn Ford, Black Man Wrongfully Convicted By White Jury, Freed After Nearly 3 Decades on Death Row," by Kathy Finn, March 11, 2014, The Huffington Post
In our December 2013 Sidebar, MC&A brought you the update that Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were being retried in Florence for the murder of Meredith Kercher. On January 30, 2014, the Italian appeals court reached a verdict of guilty for Knox and Sollecito, reinstating their murder convictions. The court sentenced Knox to 28 ½ years and Sollecito 25 years for stabbing Kercher to death. Both Knox and Sollecito stated that they plan to appeal the verdict.
On March 3, 2014, trial began in the case of Oscar Pistorius, the famed South African Olympian known as "blade runner." Pistorius is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, who Pistorius shot and killed on February 14, 2013 when he allegedly mistook her for a home intruder. MC&A first reported on Pistorius in our March 2013 newsletter when he was arrested for Steenkamp's death. Now on trial, Pistorius faces a minimum 25-year sentence if the prosecution is successful in convincing the presiding judge that the shooting was premeditated murder.