Trial brings new scrutiny of self-defense laws
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nearly seven months after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman, whose shooting of an unarmed black teenager made him synonymous with Florida’s so-called Stand Your Ground law, the state’s latest drama involving a fatal burst of gunfire and a claim of self-defense began to play out Thursday in a courtroom here.
And while race is woven into the background of the first-degree murder trial of Michael D. Dunn, 47, a white software developer who said he killed Jordan Davis, a black teenager, in a November 2012 confrontation about loud music, the trial appears likely to focus less on race and more on the mechanics of Florida’s self-defense laws and how juries apply them.
In their opening statements Thursday at the Duval County Courthouse, a prosecutor and a defense lawyer presented divergent theories about the motive for what took place at a convenience store on Southside Boulevard after Dunn stopped with his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, for wine and potato chips.
Assistant State Attorney John Guy, who was part of the team that prosecuted Zimmerman last year, portrayed Dunn as “fueled by anger and intent” after hearing what he described to his fiancée as “thug music.”
“When that defendant opened fire, Jordan Davis was sitting in his car seat with the door closed with nothing in his hands,” said Guy, who told the court that Dunn had fired 10 shots, three of which struck Davis, after an exchange laden with “words of intent, words of hate, words that he cannot take back.”
Not long after Dunn fired his weapon, Guy said, the teenagers in the red Dodge Durango in which Davis was a passenger, who had been out for an evening of “mall hopping and girl shopping,” began what the prosecutor called “an ominous roll call’’ to check on the well-being of everyone in the vehicle.
“Everyone responded to the sound of their name except Jordan Davis,” Guy said, as the youth’s parents sat in the courtroom. The trial will include testimony from the three people who were with Davis.
Dunn, who had been in Jacksonville to celebrate his son’s wedding, left the scene and went to a nearby hotel before the next day driving to his home about 170 miles southeast of Jacksonville.
“He didn’t call the police,” Guy said. “He went to his hotel with his girlfriend and he called the pizza deliveryman and ordered pizza.”
Cory C. Strolla, Dunn’s lawyer, said that Dunn had been compelled to act and pulled a handgun from the glove compartment of his car only after he felt endangered.
“Jordan Davis threatened Michael Dunn,” Strolla told the sequestered group of 16 jurors, four of whom are alternates.