by Rick Stack

It has been said that justice delayed is justice denied. In the case of Florida teenager Jordan Davis, that legal aphorism is not entirely accurate. More than seven months after the jury in the first trial of Jordan’s killer, 47-year old software developer Michael Dunn, deadlocked on first-degree murder charges after deliberating for about 30 hours, a Florida jury convicted Dunn of the first-degree murder after a scant five and one-half hours of deliberations. In the retrial, a mostly-white jury consisting of eight men and four women heard evidence over a period of six days. Under Florida law, Dunn will now spend the rest of his life in prison, without the possibility of parole.

ackIn the previous trial, the jury found Dunn guilty of three counts of attempted murder for shooting in the direction of Davis‘ three companions and one count for firing at the vehicle at the same time that he shot and killed Davis. Dunn had faced as little as 30 years to as much as 70 years in prison for his convictions on those charges (20 years for each count of attempted murder, or a total of 60 years if the sentences were to run consecutively rather than concurrently, plus a 10 year enhancement for his use of a firearm in committing those crimes).

This case tested the outer limits of Florida’s Stand Your Ground (“SYG”) law, sponsored by the neo-fascist group American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”), which promotes a business-friendly, anti-democratic legislative agenda in all 50 states. ALEC, with the assistance of Republican state legislators, is the same group that has promoted voter-suppression laws, restrictions of women’s constitutional right to have an abortion and birth control, and a loosening of gun laws so that citizens can carry guns practically anywhere, even in bars, churches, and schools (note the so-called “Guns Anywhere” law recently enacted in Georgia).

dunn7As readers of this blog may recall, on November 23, 2012, Dunn killed Davis in the parking lot of a convenience store following the two men’s argument over the loud rap music blaring from the Dodge Durango SUV in which Davis was a passenger in the back seat. Dunn had pulled up and parked his vehicle next to and very close to the SUV. After Dunn requested the teens to turn down their ack5music, one of Davis’ friends initially obliged but then Davis asked his friend in the front seat to turn the music back up, which he did. An argument ensued between Dunn and Davis, during which Davis allegedly called Dunn a “cracker.” (In this author’s opinion, Dunn could also accurately be characterized as a “WORM,” or a White Old Rural Male). Dunn also testified that Davis called him a “cracker,” pointed a shotgun his way, and then tried to scramble out of the SUV. Dunn then proceeded to fire a total of 10 shots at the teenagers’ SUV, three of which hit Davis. Dunn told the jury, “I’m petrified. I’m in fear for my life. This guy threatened to kill me – and he showed me a gun.”

ackIn the retrial, the prosecution convincingly rebutted Dunn’s claim of self-defense by putting his then-fiancé, Rhonda Rouer, on the stand. During the shooting, Rouer was inside the store buying liquor to enable her and Dunn to continue their private celebration of the family wedding that they had just attended. In tearful testimony, Rouer testified that Dunn had complained to her about hearing “thug” music. In the night and day after the shooting, however, Dunn never once mentioned to Rouer that the teenager had pulled out a firearm or that he had shot someone.

In addition, a police search of the teenager’s SUV, albeit conducted four days after the shooting, failed to turn up any weapon or object which could have been mistaken for a gun or a shotgun, such as a walking stick. Similarly, none of the witnesses to the shooting (including a transient who happened to be in the area) saw a weapon in the possession of the occupants of the SUV.

ack4The jury was unpersuaded by Dunn’s claim of self-defense, apparently because Dunn had left the scene of the shooting with Rouer, had more drinks and ate a pizza with her back at their hotel, and did not even bother to tell Rouer about his violent encounter with Davis at the convenience store. In fact, Dunn did not tell Rouer about his involvement in the confrontation until after they watched news of the killing on television the following morning. Needless to say, the cavalier manner in which Dunn handled this incident and his failure to promptly report it to the police undoubtedly led the jury to discredit his claim of self-defense. In the end, the jury found that Dunn had intended to kill Davis and that he acted with premeditation as he reached into his glove compartment for his gun and fired ten times at the SUV, even after it pulled away to evade the gunfire.

ack6In this trial, the prosecution employed a laser-like focus on Dunn’s actions after the shooting, which it believed cloaked him in guilt. Dunn fled the scene and never called the police, not even after he learned that someone had died. Instead, he and his then-fiancé drove to their hotel, where he walked the dog, poured himself a rum and coke, and ordered a pizza. [Such callous actions are reminiscent of the archetypal hit man who kills someone in his home, makes himself a sandwich from the contents of the victim’s refrigerator, and then proceeds to leisurely dine at the victim’s kitchen table]. The next day, Dunn drove for two and one-half hours back to his house in Satellite Beach, Florida, where the police, who had obtained his license plate number, arrested him. In a news conference after the verdict, the State’s attorney, Angela B. Corey stated, “If you are fighting to defend your life, you don’t then run from the scene.”

ack9After the verdict was announced, Davis’ parents, Ron Davis and Lucy McBath, stressed that this second trial was incredibly difficult for them but they expressed relief that they had finally gotten justice for their son. Ms. McBath gave the following statement at a post-verdict press conference:

“We are very grateful that justice has been served, justice not only for Jordan, but justice for Trayvon (Martin) [who was killed only months earlier by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of Martin’s killing based on his claim of self-defense under Florida’s controversial SYG law] and justice for all the nameless, faceless children and people that will never have a voice. And Ron and I are committed to giving our lives too walking out Jordan’s justice and Jordan’s legacy. We know that Jordan’s legacy will live on for others.”

ack8Self-defense was at the core of the retrial, where Dunn faced an even less diverse jury the second time around. This time, the jury was comprised of ten whites and two blacks. The mostly white make-up of the jury raised concerns among supporters of the Davis family and legal observers that Dunn would be acquitted of murder. In the end, however, the racial make-up of the jury was immaterial because it fully considered the evidence and served justice upon Dunn. After the verdict, Mr. Davis stated that this case is an example of how the racial make-up of a jury should be irrelevant:

“I wanted Jacksonville to be a shining example that you can have a jury made up of mostly white people, white men, and to be an example to the rest of the world to stop the discriminatory practices, stop discriminating, stop looking where we have to look at juries and say what the makeup of juries are.”

ack7The retrial of this case is indeed a shining example of how much America has changed in the past 50 years. Since passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act (Section 5 of which was gutted by the conservative Supreme Court in its last term), we have now had a black President, a black Attorney General, and a growing black middle class. Now, a mostly white jury in the Deep South has rejected a white man’s spurious claim of self-defense and instead convicted him of premeditated murder of a black teenager. Slowly but surely, and at least in this case, America is achieving its goal of equal justice under the law. In the immortal words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Somewhere up there, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown are smiling down broadly upon us as we continue our attempt to form a more perfect union. . .

 

rickRick Stack is a Los Angeles-based tax lawyer working in the private sector. Prior to that, he worked for many years as a Federal Prosecutor in the Tax Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He resides in Los Angeles County and is interested in politics, civil rights, his family and the Chicago Bears. Rick is one of All Things Crime Blog’s earliest supporters and is known for his trenchant and unabashed comments.

 

27 Responses to Justice for Jordan Davis Delayed for Seven Agonizing Months But is Now Finally “Dunn”

  1. Lori says:

    Fantastic post Rick! Lately we have been going backward in this country and it was a relief to many of us that a jury was able see through this latest ridiculous misuse of SYG.

    I do however believe this is a bit draconian to sentence him to LWOP. While Mr. Dunn certainly deserves a lengthy sentence, LWOP should be limited to our very worst repeat offenders that simply can’t be rehabilitated.

    “I’m petrified. I’m in fear for my life.”
    When Mr. Dunn said this on the stand I wonder if he saw the irony in that this is the way many of our citizens of color feel just walking down the street everyday.

    This tragedy would have been completely averted without that damn gun.

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      I tend to agree with you, Lori with respect to the appropriate sentence. Our sentences here in the US tend do tend to be “draconian” which is a word we often use in our legal briefs when we’re trying to avoid a “draconian” sentence. :-)

      • Rick says:

        You and Lori are probably right that the LWOP sentence that Dunn will receive is excessive. Based upon his conduct, a sentence of 20-30 years (provided that most of that time is actually served) would have been adequate punishment for his crimes. However, as you know, the “tough on crime” legislators of the last 30+ years have enacted mandatory, lengthy prison sentences for many crimes and taken away the discretion that judges formerly enjoyed in fashioning appropriate sentences based on the facts and circumstances of each individual case.

        Another aspect of the jury’s verdict in the retrial which is under-appreciated is that Dunn’s culpability for first-degree murder is actually a fairly close call. While someone can formulate the intent to kill another person in a matter of only minutes, as occurred here, Dunn could argue on appeal that he committed only second-degree murder because Davis used “fighting words” (i.e., “cracker”) which provoked him to open fire.

        • liselasalle says:

          You have outdone yourself Rick and I love the title. I had to look up legal aphorism.

          I would have been satisfied with 2nd degree murder because as you said, it was a fairly close call.

          Some things bothered me about the investigation and I don’t think it was premeditated. Bloody guns!

          • Rick says:

            Merci beaucoup, Lise. I agree with you that the premeditation in this case is a stretch, since Dunn’s getting angry for being called a “cracker” is equally susceptible to an interpretation that such name-calling caused him to “lose his mind,” grab his “freedom protecker” from the glove box, and begin blasting away. That sounds to me more like second-degree murder. However, I also have no problem with Dunn’s conviction for first-degree murder. :)

    • Rick says:

      Thanks, Lori. I’m heartened that the members of this jury panel looked at the objective evidence and set aside any prejudices that they may have had against a victim who didn’t look like them and delivered a correct verdict. America definitely has come a long way but we have much further to go, as evidenced by the unprecedented number of threats on our black President’s life by right-wing extremist groups and the Secret Service’s apparent disinterest in protecting the leader of the Free World.

      I’m also glad that the jury decided not to check its common sense at the courthouse steps and made the proper inferences from Dunn’s behavior. For an example, does an innocent man who acted in self-defense flee the scene of a shooting, not tell his fiance that he has just fired ten shots at the occupants of another vehicle, and then altogether fail to report that incident to the police? No way, Jose. A possible explanation for Dunn’s failure to immediately go to the police is that he was legally drunk when he discharged his weapon and he did not want to get arrested for DUI or have his account of the shooting questioned due to altered perception resulting from his intoxication. For that same reason, “President” Dick Cheney refused to be interviewed by the Texas State Police for a full 12 hours after he shot his friend Harry in the face, in a hunting accident. Here, Mr. Dunn, unlike VP Cheney, never even bothered to contact the police to tell them about his version of the events; the police instead showed up to arrest him at his residence only because a quick-thinking witness jotted down (or memorized) the license plate number of Dunn’s vehicle as it fled the scene of the murder.

      It is time for the States to begin to roll back their insane SYG laws. Until the last 20-30 years, when ALEC was formed and began to advocate for their “Guns Anywhere” laws, the “castle doctrine” of self-defense had NEVER been extended beyond the confines of one’s home and their surrounding property. In English and American law, a person who subjectively felt threatened by the actions of another person had a duty to retreat, if at all possible, before employing potentially deadly force against an aggressor. SYG laws actually have the perverse effect of encouraging citizens to shoot first and ask questions later, thereby undermining public safety. To paraphrase Don Henley, it appears that the “Barons in the Balcony” (i.e., ALEC, corporations, and the 1/10th of the 1%) have intentionally advocated for SYG laws for their own sick personal amusement and to pit lower-middle and middle class citizens against each other on arbitrary bases like color, ethnicity, language, and religion to distract them from the economic war being waged upon them since the Reagan era. So long as the hoi polloi are fighting amongst each other, the ultra-wealthy can continue to employ trickle down economics and complicated tax dodges to further impoverish the vast majority of Americans.

      • Lori says:

        Thank you Rick!! Those dots always connect so much easier when you explain them. This is how we got into the insane situation we are in with guns and clearly we need to VOTE our way out of it.

    • Rick says:

      Guns, guns, everywhere can only make America safer, right? As the ammosexuals are fond of saying, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammo.” :(

  2. Darcia Helle says:

    Excellent article, Rick. Finally Florida gets something right. I was beginning to question my sanity in having moved here.

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      No way will you ever lose your marbles. I want to spend a week in Florida just to see the crazy place. I haven’t been there in 20 years. I remember that it made me kind of nervous. A place of odd contrasts.

      • Rick says:

        I wonder if there’s something about the muggy heat in the Gunshine State that stir fries the brains of certain people. I’m thinking the ingestion of bath salts leading to vampirism. :)

      • Darcia Helle says:

        Patrick, you are so right about the contrasts. I’ve been here 12 years and it still makes me a little nervous!

    • Rick says:

      Thanks, Darcia. Now lets keep our fingers firmly crossed and hope that the retired Florida cop who recently killed a fellow movie-goer after getting “assualted” with popcorn during an argument over the victim’s use of a cell phone during movie previews does not walk on a SYG defense. The next step for Florida to take would be to repeal its SYG law, which will only happen if the voters oust the Republicans from the Florida Statehouse and governorship.

      • Darcia Helle says:

        Rick, that situation at the movie theater is just absurd. Shooting someone over the use of a cell phone. Did it never occur to the guy to simply switch seats? This sense of entitlement the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law brings to Florida is crazy.

        I do my part at the voting poll, though the level of corruption here makes me wonder how much it matters.

      • Lynne says:

        Despite bravado shown in statements by his defense attorneys and his own chatter with family durin jailhouse phone calls, I don’t think moviehouse gunslinger Curtis T. Reeves and his “feared for my life” story will play with jurors any better than Dunn’s did at the retrial.

        • Rick says:

          We can only hope that the jury in the Reeves case doesn’t buy his theory that he feared for his life because of the “popcorn assault” against him by the victim.

  3. Mari says:

    It fascinates me how one can commit such a horrendous act and then casually resume life as if nothing happened. To even have an appetite after spilling blood is incomprehensible. I have enough trouble keeping my pasta down while watching “House” even after telling myself, “it’s fake Mari, it’s just makeup and props.” I just can’t do it, the props are too good!

    Perhaps the lust for blood triggers a lust for pizza and other fast food delicacies just like thought of exercise triggers the need for sleep. The key to regaining a healthy appetite, for those who have lack the desire to eat, may lie in murder.

    • Rick says:

      Mari – Some people have cast iron stomachs and can eat no matter the circumstances. However, the ability to do so after you have murdered someone shows a certain callousness that most of us simply do not possess.

      Your suggestion that murder may stimulate the appetite would appear to work for only the Hannibal Lecters of this world. :) I wouldn’t place Michael Dunn in that category.

      • CoffeeLover says:

        Not defending Dunn by any means, but did he in fact know that he actually killed someone or did he think he just shot the car up? I mean, one would think he would be intelligent enough to know that one of the ten bullets he fired may have hit someone, but the world is full of stupid people.

  4. Lynne says:

    By Florida law, Dunn’s three attempted murder convictions must run consecutively.

    • Lynne says:

      Also, Rhonda, the live-in girlfriend, was inside the store buying white wine and chips — not liquor.

      Liquor is a distilled or spiritous beverage such as whiskey, as distinguished from fermented beverages like wine or beer.

      Love the WORM reference, although this murdering maniac, at 47, seems a little young to qualify. Likely his daddy Philip, 67, is a certified WORM, though.

      • PatrickHMoore says:

        You’re right on all accounts.

      • Rick says:

        Liquor, wine and beer, it’s all the same. :) I was actually thrown off by the fact that I’d heard that Dunn had a rum and coke back at his hotel room. So he must have already had rum or he used rum from the mini bar in his hotel room.

        • Lynne says:

          Hi Rick — Dunn had the rum stashed at the Sheraton hotel. The white wine (plus chips) was for Rhonda. She ended up handing over the cash for these items, went to the door to see what was going on, and ended up leaving her items and change behind. So she had to make do with rum & Coke back at the hotel. Dunn, a wife-beater, according to one-time neighbors, constantly threatened wife#2 from Mexico with deportation. Ditto with wife #3from Colombia.

          Despite her sworn testimony on how “happy” they were, I suspect Rhonda finds it a huge relief that he’s being put away for good. Her testimony, in conflict with his, went a long way toward helping jurors convict.

          According to the neighbors, Dunn had a taste for wife-swapping at a club in Fort Lauderdale, apparently with #2 and/or #3. Interestingly, in his jailhouse correspondence with Rhonda — he subtly alludes to the “great time” they had in Fort Lauderdale. I think he may have been threatening her to toe the line and mirror his claims by mail.

          • Rick says:

            Wow, Lynne, you are quite the student of this case! It’s poetic justice that Dunn’s abuse of his women backfired on him at the trial, since Rhonda’s adverse testimony definitely deep-sixed his case.

          • PatrickHMoore says:

            Lynn,

            A very amusing rundown of Dunn and his perhaps bizarre ways.

    • Rick says:

      Thanks for the clarification, Lynne. It’s quite harsh and somewhat unusual that the Florida legislature has taken away the discretion of judges to impose concurrent rather than consecutive sentences against defendants convicted of multiple crimes. In any event, that issue will be mooted by the mandatory LWOP that Dunn will receive for the first-degree murder conviction.

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