Murder trial opens in Florida shooting over loud music

JACKSONVILLE, Florida Mon Feb 3, 2014 1:02am EST

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JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida murder trial, stemming from an argument over loud music at a gas station that ended in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, opens on Monday, reviving a debate over the state's gun control and self-defense laws.

Michael Dunn, 47, faces first-degree murder charges in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis on November 23, 2012.

The white, middle-aged software engineer opened fire on a car with four black teenage boys inside that was parked next to him in the parking lot of a Jacksonville gas station convenience store in northeast Florida.

Dunn has said he feared for his life, drawing comparisons to the trial of George Zimmerman, the former central Florida neighborhood watchman who was acquitted last year of murder after saying he shot a 17-year-old unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in self-defense.

Dunn said he had asked the teenagers to turn down the volume of their music. From the back passenger seat, Davis refused and the two exchanged words. Dunn says he opened fire because he saw the barrel of a gun pointed out the back window at him, though police found no weapon.

The case has garnered national and international media attention because of the racial overtones and the self-defense claims. Like Zimmerman, Dunn said he feared a black teenager who was unarmed.

Media credentials have been issued to 178 journalists and 24 media outlets seeking to cover the case in Duval county court.

If found guilty, Dunn faces life in prison. Prosecutors say they won't seek the death penalty.

Dunn's attorney, Cory Strolla, has filed motions asking the judge not to allow references in the trial to comments Dunn made in jailhouse letters or phone calls where he referred to Davis and to some inmates as "thugs", and made other "alleged racial comments," according to court documents.

In a letter that Dunn sent to a local television reporter, he described Davis as a thug. "This case has never been about loud music," Dunn wrote to news anchor Heather Crawford in October. "This case is about a local thug threatening to kill me because I dared to ask him to turn the music down."

Strolla also asked that the judge bar the prosecution from referring to Davis as a "victim."

The media attention will also thrust back into the spotlight Jacksonville's state attorney Angela Corey, the special prosecutor who was chosen by Florida Governor Rick Scott to handle the Zimmerman case.

She is also the prosecutor in the case of Marissa Anderson, a Jacksonville woman sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she said was a warning shot at her abusive husband.

Jordan's parents, Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, said they plan to be in the courtroom throughout the trial.

"I need to experience what happened to my son that day," Ron Davis told Reuters. "As a parent you want to know, 'What happened to my son? Why did you do this to my son?'"

Since their son's death, Davis and McBath have become advocates for gun control and for changing Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which allows people in fear of serious injury to use deadly force to defend themselves rather than retreat.

They have testified before the Florida state legislature and the United States Congress. Both have appeared on national television, talking about the case and about their son.

After the trial, Davis said he will continue to work to have the state Stand Your Ground law revised to include a duty to retreat. If someone is threatened in public, Davis said, the law should require that he or she try to defuse the situation rather than use deadly force.

That requirement might have changed the outcome for his son, he said. "In your home, you have every right to protect your castle," Davis said. "In public, we can't all walk around acting like we are in our home, telling people what to do in a public place. We have to share the public space."

(Reporting By David Adams; Editing by Ken Wills)

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Comments (11)
crowleykirk wrote:
Teenagers have no respect for others these days. This will happen more often with the crap they listen to and then make the rest of us hear it. But shooting someone over this is not the solution. Seems tempers are really high these days. Lets all show some respect and love for a fellow humans… PLEASE!

Feb 03, 2014 10:19am EST  --  Report as abuse
crowleykirk wrote:
Teenagers have no respect for others these days. This will happen more often with the crap they listen to and then make the rest of us hear it. But shooting someone over this is not the solution. Seems tempers are really high these days. Lets all show some respect and love for a fellow humans… PLEASE!

Feb 03, 2014 10:19am EST  --  Report as abuse
peskymeme wrote:
If they had charged this guy with murder two, or even felonious assault, they might have got something, but there is no way they will convict for first-degree murder. The first-degree murder charge alone is enough to get him off. Is that part of the plan? Like Casey Anthony, all it takes is reasonable doubt, and stand your ground doesn’t include anything about how to judge the threat. The threat depends on what’s in somebody’s head, so you try to make cases work out like the woman in Jacksonville where they bypass the threat in your head because you managed to turn around to get a gun in your car. If there was a threat, you wouldn’t have turned around. Make sense? Not to me, but maybe that case was more complicated, like women shouldn’t have guns in the first place. That’s the only reason the prosecutor won that case. The defense didn’t believe any thinking person could twist the law enough to hang them. They were right. Their mistake was thinking people would go on using their brains indefinitely, although I’ll have to give the judge credit. The argument that no threat exists because you can’t see it is pretty ingenious, especially for a judge.

The prosecutor will not win this case also for the same reasons she did not win the Zimmerman case. One, Rick Scott and the legislature do not want to win a case against stand your ground, so they send her to take the fall, and two, all the defense has to do is convince the jury that the defendant thought there was a threat. Violent ex-husband? Not really a threat. Black teenager armed with Skittles? Scary. Car full of Black kids playing loud music? Right up there with Charlie Sheen. This time there were witnesses, but maybe that’s even better.

I’d be okay with stand your ground if it included any kind of objective standard for a threat, even the standard of reasonable belief, but there is no standard, which violates free speech and equal protection under the Constitution as well as the obligation of the state to take responsibility for justice. If the individual totally decides what constitutes a threat and the appropriate response, independent of any authority, then what do we need a judicial system for? As far as I can tell, to put a stamp of approval on legislative BS.

If we want to sanction violence and aggression, okay, but at least have the cabbage to call it what it is and don’t be trying to pretend it’s some kind of refried memorial to a myth of the imaginary frontier. Only cowards pause to reflect on why someone else seems hostile. Endorse the right to blow them away indiscriminately, but where does that end? Just hope it doesn’t come back to roost in your coop.

Feb 03, 2014 12:45pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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