A jury convicted Michael Dunn of three counts of attempted murder Saturday but was unable to reach a verdict in the first-degree murder charge against him. Dunn was accused of killing a Florida teen in 2012 after having an argument with him over loud music in a convenience store parking lot.
The three lesser charges of attempted murder pertained to the three other people in an SUV at the time that Dunn shot at it, allegedly killing Jordan Davis, 17. None of the others were injured. The jury also found Dunn guilty of firing into an occupied car. But after more than 30 hours of deliberations over four days, a mistrial was declared on the most serious charge.
Prosecutors said they plan to retry the first-degree murder charge.
Dunn, 47, was accused of firing multiple shots into the vehicle of a group of teenagers after arguing with them in the parking lot in Jacksonville. Dunn, who is white, had described the music to his fiancee as "thug music." After allegedly killing Davis, who is black, he then drove away as if nothing happened, prosecutors said during closing arguments Wednesday.
Defense attorneys countered that Dunn acted in self-defense when he shot Davis and was justified in using deadly force.
The trial's racial overtones and claims of self-defense have drawn comparisons to the contentious case of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin and was later acquitted of all charges.
And while unlike Zimmerman Dunn faces significant jail time for the lesser convictions, many expressed concern that he seems to have evaded the major first degree murder charge for now.
“The verdict won’t sit well with the black community in Jacksonville,” Ken Jefferson, of the local Jacksonville organization Operation Save Our Sons, told the New York Times.
“There is a feeling of being able to shoot black people and get away with it,” he said.
Dunn pleaded not guilty to the charges of first-degree murder. He showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. Davis' parents each left the courtroom in tears.
Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Davis' mother Lucia McBath said: "We will continue to wait for justice for Jordan."
Dunn faces up to 30 years in prison and a 20-year mandatory minimum sentencing for each of three counts of attempted second-degree murder. He also faces up to 15 years in prison for shooting into the SUV.
Assistant State Attorney Erin Wolfson told jurors Wednesday that the evidence showed Davis was unarmed when Dunn fired at the Dodge Durango where Davis was sitting. Wolfson said no witnesses saw any weapons in the vehicle with the teenagers and police searches turned up none.
"This defendant was disrespected by a 17-year-old teenager, and he lost it. He wasn't happy with Jordan Davis' attitude. What was his response? 'You're not going to talk to me like that,'" Wolfson said. "He took these actions because it was premeditated. It was not self-defense."
Dunn's attorney Cory Strolla told jurors Wednesday that the state had failed to prove its case or disprove Dunn's assertion he acted in self-defense.
"Not one single witness said this man (Dunn) showed any signs of anger," he said.
Strolla argued that there were no signs Dunn was planning the shooting, only firing his gun when he saw Davis wielding a weapon from inside the vehicle and felt threatened.
"He's had that gun for 20 years and never pulled it once," Strolla said. "He told you that nobody has ever scared him, no one has ever threatened him like that."
Police didn't find a weapon in the SUV, but Strolla contended that the teens got rid of it during the three minutes they were in an adjacent parking lot after fleeing the gunshots. He said detectives should have immediately gone to the area and searched, but didn't.
In his testimony Tuesday, Dunn told jurors he was in Jacksonville with his fiancee, Rhonda Rouer, to attend his son's wedding. Dunn said he and Rouer went to the convenience store for wine and chips. He said he pulled in next to an SUV playing loud music.
"My rear view mirror was shaking. My eardrums were vibrating. It was ridiculously loud," Dunn said.
Dunn said he asked the teens to turn down the music and they turned it off. "I said, 'Thank you,'" Dunn said. But soon afterward, Dunn said he heard someone in the SUV shouting expletives and the word "cracker" at him. The music was turned back on, and Dunn testified, "I wasn't going to ask for favors anymore."
Dunn said the teens in the SUV had "menacing expressions," and he asked the teens whether they were talking about him. He said he wanted to calm down the situation but saw a teen in the backseat reach down for something. Dunn said it looked as if the barrel of a shotgun was sticking out the window.
One of the teens stepped out of the SUV, Dunn said, and he felt "this was a clear and present danger."
Dunn, who had a concealed-weapons permit, fired nine shots into the car using the pistol in his glove compartment, according to an affidavit. Authorities say a 10th shot fired by Dunn missed the car. Once his fiancee returned to the car, he drove off out of fear of the SUV returning, he said.
Dunn said he told Rouer on the drive back to the hotel that he had shot in self-defense. But Rouer, called by prosecutors as a rebuttal witness, said Dunn never told her he thought Davis had a gun.
Medical evidence presented in court showed that Davis died inside the car in a defensive posture.
Dunn and Rouer drove back to their hotel and Dunn said he didn't call the police because his focus was on the well-being of Rouer, whom he described as hysterical. The next morning, Dunn said, Rouer insisted she wanted to go home and they drove back to their home in Brevard County, 175 miles away. There, Dunn said he contacted a neighbor who is in law enforcement for advice on how to turn himself in.
In her closing argument, Wolfson said the actions Dunn took after the shooting are those of someone who thought he wouldn't get caught.
"This defendant didn't tell anyone because he thought he had gotten away with murder," the prosecutor said.
Al Jazeera and wire services