Judge will not delay Michael Dunn trial; did not rule on jailhouse phone calls
Defense attorney says he's overwhelmed by media requests for information
Circuit Judge Russell Healey has denied a defense motion to delay Michael Dunn's murder trial, but did not rule on a second motion requesting that Dunn's jailhouse phone calls be kept from the media.
Dunn is accused of murder in the death 17-year-old Jordan Davis in the parking lot of a Gate convenience store the day after Thanksgiving 2012. Dunn complained about loud music from Davis' SUV, and told police he fired into the vehicle in which Davis was a passenger when he thought he saw a gun.
Jury selection in the case is scheduled to begin Feb. 3.
At a motions hearing on Tuesday afternoon, Dunn's attorney, Cory Strolla, who appeared via phone, asked for more time to prepare for trial. He claims he is overwhelmed by the media requests for information on the trial.
"I've got to protect Mr. Dunn's rights, his future with this jury (inaudible)," Strolla said. "With everything I call outside distractions other than the heart of this case, it's taking time to defend Mr. Dunn properly and effectively, and in the interest of my client I had to file this motion to continue."
While prosecutors opposed Stolla's motion to delay the trial, they sided with the defense on keeping 180 hours of phone calls to and from Dunn in jail from being released.
"We're not battling with the media," State Attorney Angela Corey said. "It's just the time that we have issue with."
Channel 4 Ed Birk attorney argued the calls should be released, but Corey said that would interfere with her case.
"Whether it's interfering or not, the people of Florida to the Constitution and case law and statutes have said it time and time again that public records are very important to them," Birk said. "And so the ability to access public records in a criminal case is in the law. It's in the Constitution. It's part of the deal. They have to deal with it, and they may not like it but they have to deal with it."
The First District Court of Appeals has set a deadline of 4 p.m. Friday for Judge Healey to rule on the release of remaining discovery evidence, including the audio of Dunn's jail phone calls.
Dunn faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Local attorney Gene Nichols -- who is not involved in this case -- did not expect the judge to view that as a reason to push this back.
"This case has been ready for trial for months. Not only is the defendant and lawyer ready, but the nation is ready," said Nichols. "The sheriff's office has been putting out notices on where to park. They're putting out tents in the courtyard. The nation is going to be there to cover this trial."
Nichols said this will be the first major test for the relatively new courthouse, handling a major trial with a national focus because Dunn's lawyers plan to claim self-defense -- which draws parallels to the George Zimmerman murder case.
"Unless the defendant's trial rights are being jeopardized by having the trial in the next couple of weeks, Judge Healey is not going to delay," Nichols said on Monday. "Unless there's a death in someone's immediate family, Judge Healey is not going to continue this trial."
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