JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Reuters) - A 17-year-old black teenager was “mall hopping and girl shopping” on a typical Friday outing with friends, when he was confronted and killed by a middle-aged white software engineer in a dispute over loud rap music, a north Florida jury heard in opening statements on Thursday.
The engineer Michael Dunn, 47, is being tried in state court on one count of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of firing a deadly missile into an occupied vehicle.
Dunn faces life in prison if convicted in the November 23, 2012, shooting death of Jordan Davis, 17, who along with three friends in an SUV had stopped for cigarettes at a gas station.
Prosecutors said Dunn overreacted in his frustration with loud music coming from the SUV; the defense said he believed his life was in danger and he was justified in using deadly force under the state’s stand your ground self-defense law.
Assistant state attorney John Guy, speaking for the prosecution, recounted how the argument broke out when the teens pulled into the gas station in a red Dodge Durango, and made the case that Dunn could have avoided a confrontation.
The teens were listening to rap music - Lil Reese’s “Beef”, according to police reports - cranked up loud.
Dunn and his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, stopped at the same gas station store on the way back to their hotel after attending the wedding of Dunn’s son. Dunn parked his 2009 Volkswagen Jetta beside the Durango.
The music was so loud, the defense said, Dunn asked the teens to turn it down.
When one of the teens lowered the music, Davis told him to turn it back up, Guy said, adding that although Davis cursed at Dunn, he represented no threat to his life.
“There is no doubt he raised his voice, but he didn’t threaten the defendant. He disrespected the defendant,” Guy said.
To emphasize that Davis wasn’t acting aggressively or advancing on Dunn, Guy told jurors the evidence would show the teen was leaning away when he was struck by three bullets.
Defense attorney Cory Strolla described Davis as so threatening that Dunn feared for his life.
“The only person who cursed was Jordan Davis. His words were, ‘I‘m going to fucking kill you. I should kill you right now,'” Strolla said.
When his friend turned down the music, Strolla said Davis was so angry he cursed and said, “... turn it back up.”
The music was so loud, it was rattling windows and mirrors, and Dunn and his fiancee “couldn’t hear themselves talk ... sitting in the same vehicle,” Strolla added.
A gun or a lead pipe was brandished out the back passenger window and Davis was exiting the car when Dunn reacted, Strolla said.
As he moved to open the door, Davis said this “is going down now, bitch,” according to Strolla.
Police found no weapon in the Durango, although Dunn’s attorney said the teens had time to discard any weapon before police arrived.
A racially diverse jury of 10 whites, three blacks, one Asian, one Hispanic and one person of Indian descent is hearing the case. Only 12 jurors ultimately will take part in the deliberations to decide if Dunn committed murder or was acting in self defense when he opened fire on the four black teenagers in an SUV parked next to him at the gas station.
According to information compiled by a local radio reporter about the jury panel, many of the jurors know people who have been arrested or have been victims of crime.
Several own guns, according to the WOKV-FM reporter. One of the white male jurors, who works as a software developer like Dunn, has a friend who was a victim of violent crime and an uncle convicted of armed robbery.
Another juror worked in a bank that was robbed. She said she does not like guns.
The Dunn case has drawn comparisons to the prosecution of George Zimmerman over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. The victims in both cases were 17-year-old black teens killed by men who said they believed their lives were in danger.
Both cases have been prosecuted by the office of State Attorney Angela Corey, who supervised the Zimmerman case and said she will prosecute Dunn.
Editing by David Adams, Colleen Jenkins, Sophie Hares and Gunna Dickson