In Self Defense: “The Loud Music” Trial-The Shooting of Jordan Davis, Part 6- The Verdict And Lessons Learned
The “Loud Music” Trial
The shooting of Jordan Davis
Part 6: The Verdict And Lessons Learned
Michael Dunn is one of the relatively rare criminal defendants who endured two trials and faced two juries for the same incident.
Dunn fatally shot seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis at a convenience store parking lot after an argument over the loud music Davis and his friends were listening to in their red Dodge Durango. While Dunn claimed Davis made death threats, displayed a shotgun, and attempted to get out of his car to attack him, no evidence or witness testimony corroborated his account. Dunn fled the scene and failed to contact law enforcement. A witness memorized Dunn’s license plate number, and detectives apprehended Dunn at his home the next day. He was eventually charged with one count of first degree murder for the shooting of Jordan Davis, and three counts of first degree attempted murder for firing at a car full of teenagers as they sped away. The state threw in a charge of throwing or firing “deadly missiles” for good measure.
During the first trial, scrappy criminal defense attorney Cory Strolla, operating on a shoestring budget, made an impassioned argument that the state failed to disprove, beyond a reasonable doubt, Dunn’s claim that he shot Jordan Davis in self-defense. According to a juror who spoke to reporters after the trial, Strolla convinced two members of the jury that state had not met their burden. They refused to convict Dunn on the murder charge and forced a mistrial on the central count. The jury was unanimous, however, on the three counts of attempted murder, although the opted for the lesser charge of second degree, telling the state they believed the act was done in the heat of the moment, not as a premeditated plot to kill. They found him guilty for the “deadly missile” charge as well.
The mandatory minimum sentence for second-degree murder in Florida is 20 years — each. Dunn would get 60 years in prison for the shots he fired that hurt no one, and he’d have to stand trial a second time to resolve the question surrounding the shot that took Jordan Davis’ life.
During the second trial, experienced public defender Waffa Hanania represented Dunn and worked methodically to convince the jury that “Jordan Davis escalated this situation until he ended up dead.” The jury didn’t buy it. After a short deliberation, they gave the state exactly what they asked for: a guilty verdict for first degree murder. The verdict meant that the jury didn’t just reject Dunn’s self-defense claim — they felt that at some point in the argument, Dunn made a deliberate decision that he was going to kill Jordan Davis, and then he did.
Don West, veteran criminal defense lawyer and National Trial Counsel for CCW Safe said that the Dunn trial provides a “list of how not to act” as a concealed carrier. Here’s a list of some of Dunn’s biggest mistakes:
When Dunn pulled into the convenience store, he heard the loud music. He could tell it was coming from the red Dodge Durango, and he chose to park right next to it anyway. Had he chosen any other parking spot, Davis would be alive, and Dunn would be free.
Dunn chose to confront the teenagers in the SUV about their loud music. While it was within his rights to so, a grown man shouldn’t be surprised that cocksure teens out with their friends might take umbrage at a request to turn down the radio. Dunn invited the argument that ensued.
Once Jordan Davis got angry and started shouting obscenities, Dunn could have disengaged. He could have looked away or moved to a different parking spot. Instead, he rolled down his window and, stealing a line from Robert De Niro in the film Taxi Driver, he said, “Are you talking to me?”
Dunn told investigators, “I went over this a million times, and what I should have done is put the car in reverse . . . it was fight or flight. I don’t think there was any time for flight at that moment.” Dunn did have enough time, however, to reach across the passenger seat, open the glove box, grab his holstered pistol, draw the weapon, and rack the gun before firing.
Dunn fired too many times. The fact that the first jury failed to convict on murder says that the first round of bullets Dunn fired could have been considered justified. But everyone agreed that the final burst of gunfire was without justification.
Dunn fled the scene and failed to report the shooting to investigators, Don West says there was no plausible scenario to explain why Dunn left the scene without reporting the shooting to authorities — unless he had done something wrong.
Dunn spoke to police investigators without the advice of an attorney. His voluntary testimony was used against him in court.
Clearly there are many lessons here for the concealed carrier, but perhaps this is the most important: don’t confuse anger for fear. No one could present any solid evidence or witness testimony to bolster Michael Dunn’s claims that Jordan Davis produced a shotgun and was starting to get out of the SUV to attack him. Without such evidence, combined with that fact that Dunn fled without calling the police, it must have appeared to most jurors that Dunn was inventing facts to justify the shooting.
The second jury, with their first degree conviction, said that Dunn’s actions amounted to pre-meditated murder. Perhaps that’s true. The jurors with dissenting votes on the first jury must have felt that Dunn’s fear could have been reasonable. Perhaps that’s the truth.
Or perhaps the truth is somewhere in between, in a murky gray area where fear and anger mix. Self-defense is a matter of life and death, but it’s not often black and white. Should you ever find yourself suffering the tragedy of having to defend yourself with deadly force, people are going to look into your heart to determine whether its filled with fear or anger. Before you ever pull the trigger and take a life, you’d better be sure about what those people will find.
In the next installment of “The Four Elements of Self-Defense” we’ll continue our exploration of so-called “road rage” shootings, and we’ll dissect the case Gerald Strebendt, a former Marine sniper and professional MMA fighter who shot a motorist after a vehicle collision on a dark, remote highway in Oregon.