FLORIDA - Jurors on Saturday found a white Florida man guilty of three counts of attempted murder and one other charge for the fatal shooting of a black teenager over loud music, but a mistrial was declared on the most-serious charge against the defendant – first-degree murder.
The jury in the case indicated they were deadlocked over the first-degree murder charge, prompting the judge in the case to declare a mistrial on that charge.
Michael Dunn, 47, argued he was acting in self-defense when he shot at an SUV 10 times while parked next to four teens at a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station in November 2012.
The shots killed Jordan Davis, 17, of Marietta, Ga. Dunn is charged with first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and one count of firing a deadly missile into an occupied vehicle.
The jury did not reveal the verdicts they reached on the four lesser counts, and must reconvene to reach a final verdict on the deadlocked first-degree murder charge.
Judge Russell Healey told the jurors he wanted them to go back into the jury room and express the weakness of each of their arguments. He reiterated that the jury can lawfully choose to disagree on the first-degree murder verdict, and if they do, he will declare a mistrial on the single count.
The case has been compared to that of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who was acquitted of murder in the shooting death of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin in Florida. Like the Zimmerman trial, the case has drawn international attention due to racial overtones and its connection to gun and self-defense laws.
Earlier Saturday, the sequestered jury of 8 whites, 2 blacks, one Asian and one Hispanic resumed deliberations at 9 a.m., their 22nd hour of deliberating. A half-hour later they asked if they could rule whether self-defense was applicable to any of the five counts individually.
Healey answered that “self-defense or justifiable use of deadly force applies separately for each count."
“Each count has to, by law, be considered separately,” Healey said, adding that he realized, “It’s not easy to compartmentalize these things.”
The jury’s question shows they are divided about whether Dunn’s claim of self-defense justifies his shots on the other three teens, said NBC legal expert and former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey. Some jurors might feel Dunn assumed Davis presented danger, but the other three individuals in the car did not, Coffey added.
On Friday night, before announcing, “We have reached a wall for this evening," the jury asked if they were allowed to reach a verdict on some counts and remain deadlocked on others. Healey said Florida law allowed for this.
“The jurors are going to deliberate more here because they’re aware of the microscope. They know the eyes of the nation are watching,” Coffey said, pointing out that the deliberations have surpassed the amount of time jurors took to decide both the George Zimmerman and Casey Anthony trials.
The jurors might still come back hung on the first degree-murder charge — asserting that Dunn’s choice to kill Davis was premeditated — in which case, Dunn can potentially be retried.
If the jury is hung on the first-degree murder charge, Dunn could still face up to 60 years in prison, Coffey said.
But if Dunn is found guilty on all counts, he faces life in prison. Prosecutors have said they would not pursue the death penalty.
Dunn, who has a concealed weapons permit and no prior convictions, was waiting in his car while his fiancée was buying snacks inside the gas station convenience store when he got into a verbal fight with Davis and his friends over the volume of their music.
While testifying in his own defense on Tuesday, Dunn said that he started shooting because he felt threatened when he thought he saw the barrel of a gun emerge from the back window as Davis allegedly started getting out of the Dodge Durango.
Police said they didn’t find a weapon in the SUV the teens were in, and prosecutors said - who has no arrest record — never exhibited a physical threat. Prosecutors also said forensic evidence proved that Davis never left the SUV.
Still, defense lawyer Cory Strolla argued Wednesday that Dunn “had every reason to stand his ground," using language pointing to a controversial self-defense law allowing people to use deadly force in lieu of retreating if they feel endangered by another person.
But Assistant State Attorney Erin Wolfson said, “This defendant does not get to claim self-defense."
“This defendant may have forever silenced Jordan Davis, but he cannot silence the truth," Wolfson added.
Davis’ 19th birthday would have been Sunday.