A software developer has been convicted of attempted murder for shooting into a car full of teenagers after an argument over what he called their “thug music”, in the latest Florida case to raise questions about self-defence and race.
Jurors could not agree on the most serious charge of first-degree murder and after more than 30 hours of deliberations over four days, a mistrial was declared on that charge faced by Michael Dunn, 47.
The jury found Dunn, who is white, guilty of three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of firing into an occupied car, following the fatal shooting of one of the black teenagers.
The trial comes six months after neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was cleared over the shooting of Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, about 125 miles south of Jacksonville, where the Dunn incident took place.
The Dunn trial was prosecuted by the same state attorney’s office that handled the Zimmerman case.
Dunn shot dead Jordan Davis, 17, of Georgia, in 2012 after the argument over loud music coming from the SUV occupied by Jordan and three friends outside a Jacksonville convenience store.
Dunn, who had described the music to his fiancee as “thug music”, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. Each attempted second-degree murder charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, while the fourth charge he was convicted on carries a maximum of 15. A sentencing date will be set at a hearing next month.
Jordan’s parents left the Jacksonville court in tears and his mother, Lucia McBath, later expressed gratitude for the verdict. Her son would have been 19 today.
“We are so grateful for the charges that have been brought against him (Dunn),” Ms McBath said. “We are so grateful for the truth. We are so grateful that the jurors were able to understand the common sense of it all.”
On Dunn’s potentially lengthy sentence, Jordan’s father, Ron Davis, said: “He’s going to learn that he must be remorseful for the killing of my son, that it was not just another day at the office.”
State attorney Angela Corey said her office planned to retry Dunn on a first-degree murder charge and she hoped jurors would come forward and tell prosecutors where they questioned their case.
Jurors declined to talk to the media.
Earlier, the panel said in a note to Judge Russell Healey that they could not agree on the murder charge. They also had the option of convicting Dunn of second-degree murder or manslaughter. The judge asked them to continue their work and they went back to the jury room for two more hours before returning with a verdict.
“I’ve never seen a case where deliberations have gone on for this length of time,” Judge Healey said afterwards, praising the jurors. “They’ve embraced their civic duty and they are to be commended for that.”
Dunn claimed he acted in self-defence, saying he thought he saw a firearm pointed at him from the SUV as the argument escalated. No weapon was found.
He told the court he feared for his life, perceiving “this was a clear and present danger”. Dunn, who has a concealed weapons permit, fired 10 shots, hitting the vehicle nine times. Jordan was the only person hit.
Dunn’s lawyer Cory Strolla said the defendant was shocked when the verdict was read. “He’s in disbelief,” Mr Strolla said. “Even sitting next to me, he said, ’How is this happening?’.”
Mr Strolla said he planned to appeal.
Prosecutors argued that Dunn opened fire because he felt disrespected by Jordan, who made his friend turn the music back up after they initially turned it down at Dunn’s request.
Dunn, parked in the spot next to the SUV outside the store, became enraged about the music and ensuing argument, prosecutors said, and one person leaving the store said he heard Dunn say: “You are not going to talk to me like that.”
Dunn said he heard someone in the SUV shouting expletives and the word “cracker” – a derogatory term for white people.
“That defendant didn’t shoot into a car full of kids to save his life. He shot into it to save his pride,” assistant state attorney John Guy told the jury earlier in the week. “Jordan Davis didn’t have a weapon, he had a big mouth.”
Before the verdict Mr Strolla told reporters he believed there was political pressure on the prosecutors and an excess of media attention because of the Zimmerman acquittal.
“I believe there is a lot vested in this case, politically,” Mr Strolla said. “The case, on the heels of not guilty in George Zimmerman, just escalated that political pressure.”