Florida jurors in last month’s high profile “loud music trial” found Michael Dunn, guilty on three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of shooting into an occupied vehicle. The jury could not, however, come to a decision on the first-degree murder charge leveled against Dunn for the shooting of 17-year-old Jacksonville native Jordan Russell Davis.
Dunn, 47, was charged after fatally shooting the unarmed teen at a gas station. Dunn took the stand on the fifth day of the trial and testified that on the night of the shooting, he pulled into a parking spot next to the SUV containing Davis and 3 other teenagers because it was closest to the convenience store door. Dunn said he heard a thumping when his fianceé exited their vehicle to purchase chips and wine. Dunn said he asked the teens to turn down the music when he heard cursing and threats of violence. Dunn said he intended to de-escalate the situation when he turned and asked the teenagers who they were referring to. According to Dunn, that’s when one of the teenagers produced a gun, then stepped out of his car. Dunn says, subsequently, he began shooting to protect himself. Dunn fired a total of 10 shots, hitting Davis three times – twice in the legs and once in the back. Police reports indicate the teens were unarmed.
“It’s been a long, long road,” Davis’ mother Lucia McBath said the evening the partial verdict was announced. “We’re so happy to have just a little bit of closure. It’s sad for Mr. Dunn that he will live the rest of his life in that sense of torment and I will pray for him and I’ve asked my family to pray for him, but we are so grateful for the charges that have been brought against him. We’re so grateful for the truth. We’re so grateful that the jurors were able to understand the common sense of it all and we will continue to stand and we will continue to wait for justice for Jordan.”
Jurors arrived at the partial verdict after 30 hours of deliberation. The mistrial announcement sparked outrage from protestors in Duval County, as well as from social media supporters using the hashtag #Justice4JordanDavis. Many have compared the incident to the trial of George Zimmerman… State Attorney Angela Corey has already vowed to re-try Dunn on the single count of first-degree murder, but legal analyst and Howard University law professor Lenese Herbert says the murder charge is a difficult one.
“First-degree murder is the most culpable, it’s the most serious and it’s the one we punish the most severely in our society,” she says. “It requires the most intense amount of analysis.It requires this premeditation, deliberation formula.” Of the jurors, 21-year-old Creshuna Miles, has already come forward expressing that the premeditation aspect is part of what kept the group deadlocked.
According to First Coast News, Miles says jurors could not reach an agreement on the first-degree charge, because of the premeditation issue. “We could not prove his actions were premeditated,” Miles told First Coast. Miles also told CNN she would have convicted on second-degree murder – a charge Professor Herbert says allows jurors to split the difference between first-degree murder and manslaughter. Herbert says the language of Florida’s “stand your ground” law also complicated the deliberation.
“The language generally seems to provide immunity to vigilantes,” says Herbert “it eliminates a duty to retreat and historically, when you’re outside of your home, if you are met with violence, the duty is to retreat before resorting to homicidal force. The prosecution did not tell its story in a way that the jurors who believed Dunn was guilty could go back and argue in a convincing way.” Herbert says this in combination with the defense invoking the language typically associated with stand your ground “allowed jurors the scenario and understanding that a reasonable threat justified the killing.”
Many have compared the incident to the killing of Trayvon Martin – another unarmed 17-year-old African American boy shot by a man who claimed he felt threatened. Ava Thompson Greenwell is an Associate Professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. In a Huffington Post article, Greenwell writes “Coincidentally, both Davis and Martin were 17-year-old African American teens. Both suspected shooters were adult white males who have said the killings were not racially motivated and that they fired out of self defense because their victims threatened them. Both killings took place in Florida where the controversial “stand your ground” law is being used as a defense. Although, Davis’ father told an Atlanta television station that rage — not race — killed his son, we must address the elephant in the room. Black males have a history in the U.S. of being labeled threatening and suspicious even when they have broken no laws. The legal assumption of innocent until proven guilty rarely applies.”
Professor Herbert agrees that race is lens that affects the U.S. criminal justice system.
“Yes, there is a legal basis upon which to understand this verdict. But those who mourn the verdict, we know in this society race is the fulcrum. And this concept of race is the default position of analysis and the concept of reasonable fear is infused with racial stereotype, irrational racial fears, racism. We haven’t yet been able to extricate that part of our history and our sickness as a society from the law. Even if justice is blind, her mind is infused with the virus of racism.