It’s the day after Thanksgiving 2012, and four teenagers are sitting in a Dodge Durango outside a convenience store in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Durango is red, which is unimportant. The teenagers are black, which is important.
The teenagers are planning to try to pick up some girls later in the evening and have stopped for some gum — “so our breath would smell good,” one will later testify — and cigarettes. The teenagers are playing loud music in the Durango.
A car pulls up next to the Durango, parking very closely to it. Inside is Michael Dunn, 45, a software developer, and his fiancee. Both are white. Dunn’s fiancee goes into the store, while Dunn waits in the car.
The couple are coming from the wedding of Dunn’s son. They have Dunn’s 7-month-old dog with them. Dunn had two drinks at the wedding but is not “buzzed,” he will later say. He describes his mood as happy.
But the loud, throbbing music from the Durango upsets him. It is rattling his rear-view mirror, he will later claim. The music, he will say, is “ridiculously, obnoxiously loud thug music” and “rap crap.”
Dunn does not change parking spaces or go inside the store to join his fiancée and escape the noise. Instead, he rolls down his window and asks the teenagers to turn down the music. “They shut it off, and I was like, ‘Thank you,’” Dunn later tells police.
But one of the teenagers in the Durango objects and tells the driver to turn the music back on. Dunn rolls down his window again, and words are exchanged between him and one of the teenagers. Dunn will tell police the teenagers were “menacing.”
“It got ugly,” Dunn later says. “I heard ‘something-something cracker.’”
The situation escalates. Dunn claims seeing one teenager pushing open the door of the Durango. (This is later denied by the teenagers.) Dunn also claims that he sees a weapon in the Durango. “I saw a barrel come up on the window, like a single-shot shotgun. ... It was either a barrel or a stick,” Dunn tells police. “I’m s----ing bricks, but that’s when I reached in my glove box, unholstered my pistol ... and so quicker than a flash, I had a round chambered in it, and I shot.” Dunn says he always keeps the pistol loaded.
Why, you might ask, had Dunn taken a loaded Taurus PT-92 semiautomatic handgun to a wedding?
Hey, this Florida. The Gunshine State.
Dunn fires four shots into the Durango. The Durango pulls away. Dunn gets out of his car and aims again at the teenagers’ vehicle. “I was still scared, and so I shot four more times ... trying to keep their heads down to not catch any return fire. And that was it,” Dunn says later.
Police will find no shotgun or any other gun in the Durango or in the vicinity. No witness sees any shotgun or any other weapons in the Durango. When Dunn’s fiancee returns to the car, Dunn mentions the shooting but does not mention any shotgun.
The couple drive 40 miles to a bed-and-breakfast and relax. They order a pizza and drink some wine, and Dunn walks his dog. He learns from TV that one of the teenagers in the Durango has died. He does not call police.
The next day, he and his fiancee drive 130 miles to his home in South Patrick Shores. Dunn says that he “was waiting” till they “got around people” they know and that he wanted to ensure that their “dog and everybody were where they needed to be.” A witness to the shooting had called police with Dunn’s license plate number, and Dunn is arrested.
Three of the bullets fired by Dunn had hit Jordan Davis, 17, originally from Marietta. One severed his aorta, killing him.
Davis, a high-school junior, had just gotten a job at McDonald’s to earn extra money. At Thanksgiving dinner, the day before he was shot, he thanked God for his family and especially his mom.
Dunn is charged with one count of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of shooting into an occupied vehicle.
He pleads not guilty, saying he shot in self-defense.
One of his lawyers will tell reporters that Dunn acted “as any responsible firearms owner would have.”
Dunn’s lawyer at trial, Cory Strolla, tells the jury: “God didn’t make all men equal. Colt did. Colt is a firearm. (Dunn) had every right under the law to not be a victim, to be judged by 12 rather than carried by six.”
On Saturday, the jury deadlocked on the charge of murder but found Dunn guilty of attempted murder and shooting into a car. His lawyer says he will appeal. The prosecutor says she will try Dunn again for murder.
There are some similarities between this case and the case of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, Fla. In neither case was Florida’s “stand your ground” law cited by defense lawyers, but in both trials, the judges mentioned it to the juries.
“Stand your ground” states that people need not retreat from attackers and can use deadly force in their own defense if they reasonably believe they will be hurt or killed.
In both the Zimmerman case and the Dunn case, armed white men shot and killed unarmed black teenagers.
Strolla, Dunn’s lawyer, said, however, the trial was not about race but about a “subculture thug issue.”
But who are the real thugs, the unarmed black kids who play loud music or walk to stores to buy Skittles or the white guys who are armed to the teeth and quick on the trigger?
Roger Simon is Politico’s chief political columnist.