JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Rejecting self-defense arguments in a case that drew national attention, an appeals court on Thursday upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a man who fatally shot a teen in the parking lot of a Jacksonville convenience store nearly four years ago.
Florida's First District Court of Appeal found that Michael Dunn received a fair trial when he was convicted of murder and attempted murder charges in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis and shooting at three friends. The court affirmed Dunn's convictions and denied a motion for acquittal.
The shooting occurred on Black Friday nearly four years ago at a Southside gas station after an argument over loud music.
After two trials, a Duval County jury was presented evidence that Dunn fired 10 shots occupied by four black teenagers and found him guilty of killing Davis and attempting to kill his three friends outside the Gate Station at the corner of Southside Boulevard and Baymeadows Road.
Dunn said he retrieved his gun from the glove compartment and fired in self-defense, claiming that he thought Davis had a shotgun. No weapon was found at the scene. Dunn and his girlfriend drove off and never reported the incident. He was arrested at his Ormond Beach home the next day.
Dunn was tried twice on the murder charge after the first trial ended in conviction on the other charges and a hung jury on the murder charge. He was convicted in a retrial months later.
Davis’ parents said they were relieved when they learned of the ruling. They said one more thing that they had to worry about is now resolved.
"My first reaction was complete joy," Jordan's mother, Lucia McBath, said. "I just thought, you know, next week is Jordan's anniversary death. And I just thought that this was probably the best Thanksgiving blessing we could ever receive."
"It is a great relief," Jordan's father, Ron Davis, said. "Unfortunately, I am at the airport in Atlanta and I can't seem to find a place to sit down and cry. I was looking for a place to be alone."
COURT DOCUMENT: Michael Dunn vs. state of Florida denial of acquittal
John Phillips, an attorney for the Davis family, said appeals are standard stuff practice, and the case likely won't end with this one.
"Throw whatever mud against the wall that you think will stick," Phillips said. "When you've got stand-your- ground and self-defense laws like they are with some degree of ambiguity, he was relying on that ambiguity in the high-profile nature of this trial to try to throw a hail Mary into the end zone to see if it could be caught. Fortunately, the First (District Court of Appeals) swatted it down."
Jordan's parents said they realize that the ruling won't bring them closure, but it's comforting as they continue to work to make America a safer place.
"I'm trying not to mourn Jordan's death anymore. I am using it as a means to celebrate his life," McBath said. "In spite of his death, so many good things are still happening based upon his legacy."
"Never give up; never give up hope," Ron Davis said. "Always fight and always put God first."
The State Attorney's Office released a statement:
Our prosecutors worked hard at every stage of this trial to make sure there were no errors which would cause a reversal and a new trial. After receiving the news this morning, we reached out to our victims’ families to tell them Michael Dunn’s appeal was denied and he will spend the rest of his life in prison. Our hope is this will bring another level of closure to those affected by Mr. Dunn’s senseless actions."
One of Dunn's defense attorneys said the denial was "obviously a disappointment." He said they are reviewing the case to decide if they will make another appeal. Meanwhile, Dunn is serving his sentence in state prison, but the Florida Department of Corrections is keeping his location confidential.
Grounds for appeal
His appeals attorney, Tallahassee-area public defender Nancy Daniels, is reviewing the opinion and said she will respond with a comment soon.
In Dunn's attorney nearly 200-page appeal of his convictions last year, outlining nine ways the defense thinks Judge Russell Healey erred during Dunn's two trials. In March the attorney filed a 38-page written argument supporting the appeal.
Roberts claims that in his closing argument, Assistant State Attorney John Guy crossed a line in trying to sway the jury when he told them:
"Your verdict in this case will not bring Jordan Davis back to life. Your verdicts won't change the past, but they will forever define it in our town."
"I raised it as fundamental error," Roberts said. "In my view, prosecutors are not allowed to ask the jury to send a message to the community or any kind of statement that sends an idea across to the jury."
Another argument is that Dunn's second trial should not have been held in Duval County, but moved to another location and that jurors were exposed to national media coverage and protest rallies.
According to the appeal: "Community awareness of the case pervaded the trial, and protesters and reporters filled the courtroom and an overflow room. It was impossible to receive a fair trial."
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has previously argued that the prosecution was well-handled and that Healey made no errors during the case.
In the court opinion denying the appeal issued Thursday, the court wrote:
Considering the evidence and inferences in the light most favorable to the State, the State presented sufficient evidence inconsistent with Dunn’s self-defense theory."
The court noted that the mannequin the prosecution presented the jury with rods showing the trajectory of the bullets that struck Davis and witness accounts were sufficient evidence to rebut Dunn's claims