Michael Dunn: Guilty of Attempted Second Degree Murder

Michael Dunn, 45, was found guilty by a Duval County (Jacksonville, Florida) jury of three counts of attempted second degree murder of three teenage boys and one count of shooting into an occupied car. The jury was hung on the first degree murder charge with respect to Jordan Davis, who would’ve turned 19 today had he not been shot and killed by Dunn.

Judge Russell Healey declared a mistrial with respect to the first degree murder charge, and Duval County State Attorney Angela Corey has said that the state will retry Michael Dunn on that charge. Sentencing for the four convictions has been continued to the week of March 24. In the meantime, a presentence report is being prepared. Mr. Dunn was remanded back into the sheriff’s custody, and will remain in custody until sentencing, at which point he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years, with a possible maximum of 75 years.

The case made national headlines, especially in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case in which George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder on the basis of Florida’s controversial stand-your-ground law. The defense in Dunn’s case raised a similar defense, arguing that Davis had a gun, and threatened to use that gun on Dunn, after the two had a verbal argument over the loud music coming from the car in which Davis was a passenger.

No gun was found. No gun was seen by any witness, other than Dunn who claimed he saw a shotgun. It’s evident that Jordan Davis had no gun.

Twitter is a-twitter of the apparent illogic of the verdicts. After all, how could Dunn be guilty of attempted murder of the three survivors, but no verdict rendered in the case involving the dead teenager.

More perplexing to North Carolina criminal defense lawyers is the notion of an attempted second degree murder charge, which is impossible as a matter of law in North Carolina. However, in Florida, second degree murder can involve an attempt.

Reconciling the Results

Juries are often illogical. While observers love to try to discern possible rationale behind a jury’s verdict, especially compromise verdicts, it’s almost always futile. While juries promise to follow the law, different jurors will almost always have different impressions from the evidence, especially in cases that are at least a bit ambiguous.

Often jurors negotiate and render a mixed verdict that is not exactly what everyone would want. Dunn was charged in his indictment with five counts: one count of first degree murder in the death of Jordan Davis, one count of attempted first degree murder for Tevin Thompson, one count of attempted first degree murder for Leland Brunson, one count of attempted first degree murder for Tommie Stornes, and one count of shooting a firearm into an occupied vehicle.

Dunn’s criminal defense lawyer made a fine closing. That closing probably undercut the State’s argument that Dunn had premeditated the murder at least for some jurors.

It’s conceivable, therefore, that some jurors were convinced that the proper result was first degree murder, and that some jurors were convinced it was a lessor included of second degree murder. As to the attempts, likely the issue was resolved simply by compromising on the three attempted second degree murder verdicts.

But it’s probably the case that at least some jurors felt that first degree murder was the appropriate result in Jordan Davis’ case.

That’s how you get to a hung jury with respect to count one – first degree murder of Jordan Davis – and guilty results with respect to counts two through four – attempted second degree murder of the other three teenagers.

Self Defense?

Some commenters are claiming that these verdicts underscore the notion that in America you can shoot and kill young black males with impunity. I’m not unsympathetic to this concern; my sympathies were with Trayvon Martin and his family in that case.

However, it seems unlikely that jurors would’ve bought the self-defense claims by Dunn and therefore refused to convict him of First Degree Murder, but inconsistently applied that defense to the other victims in this case, for which Dunn’s self-defense claim, if believed by the jury, should also have excused convictions.

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.