JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida jury deliberating for a fourth day in the trial of a middle-aged man who shot and killed a teenager during an argument over blaring rap music said on Saturday it had reached a verdict on all counts except a first-degree murder charge.
Michael Dunn, 47, a white software engineer, fired 10 rounds at an SUV carrying four teens in a Jacksonville gas station parking lot in November 2012, killing 17-year-old black teen Jordan Davis.
Jurors told Judge Russell Healey in a note that they had reached a verdict on four counts, including three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of firing a deadly missile into an occupied vehicle.
After jurors said they had been unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the murder charge, Healey instructed them to make one last effort to find a consensus. The jury deliberated some more and later came back to court with a question of whether the entire trial would result in a mistrial if they could not reach a verdict on the murder charge, or if that would only result in mistrial for the single count.
“If you ultimately reach a verdict that’s one thing, if you ultimately cannot, then only that count is mistried,” Healey told the jurors in court.
“So that answers your questions, you all can return to the jury room and continue your deliberations,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, Healey said questions posed by the 12-member jury indicated they believed Dunn was not guilty of first-degree murder, and was justified in using deadly force to defend himself from Davis.
But the judge speculated that jurors might feel Dunn went too far by shooting the final volley of three bullets after he got out of his car as the teens were driving away.
“They may say justifiable use of deadly force was in play to (a) certain point and then it went away - there was no justification for those last set of shots,” the judge said.
The trial has drawn international attention because of racial overtones and Dunn’s claims of self-defense.
The sequestered jury began deliberating on Wednesday afternoon after a week of testimony and has so far spent more than 25 hours trying to reach a verdict.
Dunn testified earlier this week that he began shooting in a state of panic after he thought he saw the barrel of a gun in the back window as Davis started to get out of the car.
Prosecutors said Davis, who had no arrest record, used foul language when confronting Dunn after the argument broke out, but was unarmed and never posed a physical threat.
Legal analysts said questions asked by jurors in recent days suggested they may be deadlocked on at least one of the five charges.
If the jury acquits Dunn on the charge of first-degree murder, or they are hung, it would be a blow for the prosecution and the Davis family.
But if found guilty on the remaining three charges of attempted murder against the other teens in the SUV, Dunn would still be facing a lengthy sentence of at least 60 years in prison, legal analysts said.
He could also be retried for first-degree murder if the jury is unable to reach a verdict on that charge.
“It does sound like that the defense has raised enough reasonable doubt to keep the jury out deliberating for a while, and maybe even come back with a lesser charge on the main count, perhaps second-degree murder or manslaughter,” said David Weinstein, a former prosecutor in Miami now in private practice.
Additional reporting by David Adams, writing by Colleen Jenkins; editing by Marguerita Choy and Bernard Orr