JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Reuters) - A racially diverse jury will decide if a middle-aged white man committed murder or faced a life-or-death threat when he opened fire on four black teenagers in an SUV parked next to him at a north Florida gas station, killing one of them.
Opening statements will begin at noon on Thursday before a sequestered jury as Michael Dunn, 47, is tried 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.
Three of the nine bullets Dunn fired into the car struck Jacksonville high school student Jordan Davis, 17, who died at the scene in the rear passenger seat, his head cradled in the lap of one of his friends.
Dunn faces life in prison if convicted of the murder of Davis on November 23, 2012.
A jury of 10 whites, three blacks, one Asian, one Hispanic and one person of Indian descent will hear the case. Only 12 jurors ultimately will take part in the deliberations.
The judge presiding over the case did not allow the media to be present for the final selection of jurors.
The case began over rap music - Lil Reese’s “Beef”, according to police reports - cranked up loud.
When Tommie Stornes pulled his red Dodge Durango into a gas station convenience store to buy a pack of cigarettes, he left his iPod plugged into his car stereo so that his three friends in the car could enjoy the music.
They had been to an Urban Outfitters at a Jacksonville mall and were on their way home.
Dunn and his fiancée Rhonda Rouer stopped at the same store on their way back to their hotel room after attending the wedding of Dunn’s son. Dunn parked his 2009 Volkswagen Jetta beside Stornes’ Durango.
After Rouer went into the store, Dunn told police he clashed with Davis over the volume of the music. Dunn told police he saw the barrel of a shotgun poke out of the rear passenger window where Davis was sitting.
That is why he grabbed his gun, loaded it and fired, he said.
In a case where Dunn’s defense attorney will argue Dunn believed his life was in danger and he was justified in meeting deadly force with deadly force under Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law, the jurors’ experience with crime and guns apparently factored into jury selection.
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 sister of a third juror was arrested on felony charges in Ohio.
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.
Martin was unarmed. Police found no weapon in Stornes’ truck, although Dunn’s attorney may argue the teens may have stashed the weapon before police arrived.
Both cases have been prosecuted by the office of State Attorney Angela Corey, who supervised the Zimmerman case and said she will personally prosecute Dunn.
Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Sophie Hares