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"Loud Music" Murder Trial Stirs Race Issues

Aired February 10, 2014 - 12:30   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And there's always the reality of jury nullification.

Sometimes it isn't even about what has brought you to your reasonability. It is what you feel someone deserves or doesn't deserve in a courtroom.

And that's where I think it should be a big concern, as well, in jury selection. A lot of jurors want to avenge stuff, or give people a pass, because of what they feel to be right, regardless of what the jury instructions tell them.

RICHARD GABRIEL, JURY CONSULTANT: I think it's why jury selection is so critical, especially in a case like this.

It's probably why the judge really closed the proceedings, because they wanted to find out really how jurors' opinions.

And it's why you need to really dig in deep in jury selection, to find out what those life experiences are, because there's following the law and there's following your own common sense, your life experience.

Whether that leads you to a verdict by evidence, or whether it leads to you a verdict by this is what I believe is the right thing to do in the case, that's why you need to really dig in deep with these people and figure out who they are, how they're going to interact with each other, how they're going to listen and find for the case.

BANFIELD: Yeah. I think your vocation is morphing by the minute, and so I applaud you for having to keep up with this.

But this is definitely -- I think we're at a real turning point, not just in Florida, right across the country, so it's good to talk to you from Los Angeles.

Richard Gabriel, thank you for being with us.

And one of the things I mentioned a short time ago, was it -- would it be possible that we would actually see Michael Dunn take the witness stand in his own defense, because the defense case is getting under way, prosecution wrapping just moments ago?

Even if he doesn't decide to speak in his defense from that witness stand, his words are making it into that trial anyway, because he talked to the police, and guess what? The cameras were rolling.

Want to hear his version from the horse's mouth? You will, right after the break.


BANFIELD: Welcome back, live in Jacksonville.

I'm Ashleigh Banfield, reporting at the Duval County courthouse, the site of the first-degree attempted murder trial of Michael Dunn. Most people know it as the "Loud Music" trial.

One thing we do know, Jordan Davis is dead, 17-years-old, in a car full of teenagers, and Michael Dunn says he shot in self defense, a lot of details in between all of those lines, and many of them coming from Dunn himself.

Here's what might be a little strange to some people watching. The prosecution just rested its case moments ago, and has not yet introduced the videotape of the interrogation, two police officers asking questions, Michael Dunn answering questions, no lawyer present.

So far, that has not made it before these jurors. It doesn't mean it's not going to. It certainly doesn't, but there is a chance that it might not.

So, we thought we would play it for you, so you can hear for yourself Michael Dunn's explanation why he began to shoot.

And here's where he picks up the story, four teenagers playing loud music next to him in a car. He says turn it down. They comply. And then things get strange.

Have a listen.


MICHAEL DUNN, MURDER SUSPECT: The guy that was in the back is getting really agitated. And my window is up. I can't hear anything he's saying, but you know, it was a lot of (inaudible) him and (inaudible) that, and then the music comes back on.

And I'm just like live and let live, and you know, done. Don't need any trouble. And I don't know if they're singing or what, but it's like they're saying, "Kill him."

So I put my window down again, and I said "Excuse me? Are you talking about me?" And it was like "kill that bitch."

And you know, I'm still not reacting to them. This guy guys down on the ground and comes up with something. I thought it was a shotgun.

And he goes, "You're dead, bitch," and he opens his door. And I'm (inaudible).

But that's when I reached in my glove box, unholstered my pistol. I mean, I practiced this. I'm at the Port Malabar Rifle and Pistol range. I'm an avid, you know, gun guy and all of that, no military training or anything, but I have friends who are in the military -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

DUNN: -- that show me the --


DUNN: Yes. And so quicker than a flash, I had a round chambered in it, and I shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Do you remember how many times you shot?

DUNN: Four.


Just keep walking me through.

DUNN: I shot four times, and the SUV pulled out, and like I said, in my mind, they've got a gun.

And so, you know, not training, just from -- I was still scared. And so I shot four more times as they were fleeing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As they were fleeing?

DUNN: Yeah, trying to keep their heads down, to not catch any return fire.


BANFIELD: So, tomorrow on this program, we're going to air you -- air for you another section of that interrogation tape, and it's pretty fascinating stuff, because a lot of people have one big question about what happened after this killing.

Why didn't he call police? Why didn't he stay at the scene? Why did at the drive off, have a rum and coke and a pizza, and not return home to his own home the next morning or speak to police until then?

He's got answers for that. You'll hear those tomorrow.

In the meantime, there's something you should know about this community in Jacksonville.

Back in 1960, there was a civil rights event, a number of prominent African-Americans were protesting the civil rights issues when all of a sudden, all hell broke loose, and they were attacked by a lot of white people yielding ax handles.

In fact, that memory still looms large here in the Jacksonville area. It has a name, Ax Handle Saturday.

Does it loom large over this trial, though? We'll talk to a prominent pastor who gives his take on the prism through which people are seeing had here, black and white.

That's next.


BANFIELD: Welcome back to the Duval County courthouse. I'm Ashleigh Banfield reporting live at the Michael Dunn first-degree murder trial and three charges of attempted first-degree murder for the three kids who survived the shooting that night.

Michael Dunn says it was all in self defense. He was with his girlfriend when they pulled into a convenience store to get a bottle of wine.

She went in to get the wine. Next to his car, four teenagers playing very loud music. He didn't like the music. He asked them to turn it down.

Words were exchanged, so was gunfire. At least one-way gunfire was shot. The woman who is at the center of testifying about what the scene was like is that fiancee, Rhonda Rouer. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did the defendant say anything about the music when he parked the car next to the red car?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what did the defendant say?

ROUER: Ah, I hate that thug music.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what was your response to the defendant?

ROUER: I said, yes, I know.


BANFIELD: Rhonda Rouer, talking about thug music, four black teenagers, and the defendant himself has had some pretty choice words to describe the African-American community, at least in the jail where he's been held since all of this happened.

My next guest has a lot to say about that. He's a prominent pastor at a local church here, and he's spoken very specifically, not just about this particular case, but the circumstance we find ourselves in, in Jacksonville.


BANFIELD: And I -- before the break I mentioned the 1960s -


BANFIELD: Ax Handle Saturday.

MCKISSICK: Right, right.

BANFIELD: Where so many African-Americans were beaten by white men.


BANFIELD: They were protesting for civil rights.


BANFIELD: And that the -- you know, the white men who did this were having no part of it.


BANFIELD: Here we are, 2014. Is it still prominently in the memories of people? Is that the prism through which they're watching this trial, or are they more watching it through the Zimmerman case?

MCKISSICK: I think they're watching it primarily through the prism of the Zimmerman case, but I do think Ax Handle Saturday still lives large and looms large for many people.

BANFIELD: A horrible name. A horrible name.

MCKISSICK: A horrible name, but I think if we don't put that name on it, people won't take it as seriously as it needs to be taken. And we're seeing this through the prism of that, but more importantly the Zimmerman case because of how, through our prism, that turned out.

BANFIELD: So Ax Handle Saturday -


BANFIELD: Is a really awful name and an important one -


BANFIELD: To highlight how awful the circumstances were. In this particular case it's being called the loud music trial.


BANFIELD: And in some cases, he called it thug music -


BANFIELD: She called it thug music. Other people have brought up the issue with "thug" being the new veiled reference to African-Americans -


BANFIELD: But a more derogatory term.


BANFIELD: Don Lemon, my colleague at CNN, has been wishy-washy.

MCKISSICK: Right. Right.

BANFIELD: Every so often he changes his opinion back and forth about that.

MCKISSICK: Right. Right.

BANFIELD: But, listen, I've got the lyrics here to the song that's purported to be the song. Look, it's disgusting. I don't care what color you are.

MCKISSICK: It is -- it is very derogatory.

BANFIELD: They talk about 300 bitches -


BANFIELD: They talk about the "f," "n" word, "f" "n" word.


BANFIELD: I mean it is a little menacing, you know?

MCKISSICK: It is. It is, but that would be like -

BANFIELD: Actually a lot menacing.


BANFIELD: I'm not going to couch it here.


BANFIELD: This is disgusting and it's frightening.


BANFIELD: And to have four young people --


BANFIELD: I don't know if you're 17 or 20 -


BANFIELD: Really celebrating this and putting on the bravado, might you even be a little scared as an African-American?

MCKISSICK: I think they're two separate issues. I think there is an issue where we need to address lyrics that come out that are derogatory towards women, towards people in general. I think that has to be dealt with. But I think to describe it as thug music, anybody has a right to their opinion on -

BANFIELD: If Justin Bieber were singing this, I would call this thug music.

MCKISSICK: He wouldn't be (ph). You would. You would. But everybody does not have that kind of colorblind prism to look through. There are those that still look through the prism of race in this country.


MCKISSICK: And I think it's unfortunate that we try to suggest that if we bring it up, we're inciting race or that all things are good.

BANFIELD: So with that all as the backdrop, I want to bring up some of the letters that were brought out. And this is going to be evidence, as well, because Michael Dunn was writing letters while he was in jail, copious letters.

MCKISSICK: Right. Right.

BANFIELD: And they're very telling. Here's the thing. They're being written while he's in jail. So this is state in mind currently, post being involved in this very high-profile situation.

MCKISSICK: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: But they may give you a bit of a window into his thinking in any case. I'll start with letter number one. "The jail here is almost all black prisoners. You'd think Jacksonville was 90 to 95 percent black judging by the makeup of the folks in jail here. I've never seen a group of people so racially divided.

The blacks hate the whites and the whites hate the blacks up here. My fear is that if I get one black on my jury, it will be a mistrial, as I'm convinced they will be racially biased." And in another letter he writes this. "The more time I am exposed to these people, the more prejudiced against them I become. I'm also looking forward to moving out of the South and away from the scourge of this country." And he adds a smiley face at the end of that.

MCKISSICK: Right. Right.

BANFIELD: I think a lot of people could read a lot of different things into that.

MCKISSICK: A lot of different things.

BANFIELD: But if you're black, I think you could say, bingo, racist.

MCKISSICK: Yes. You could say racist. You could also say there are many blacks in there because of the way the justice system operates. I could go on many different tangents on that. But it gives us a peek, I think, into his consciousness.

BANFIELD: Or does it give you a peek into a man who has been embroiled in something like Zimmerman and is finding himself at the butt of being, you know, accused of something he believed he didn't do, and now he is actually becoming this stereotype that everybody ascribed to him early on. Is that possible? MCKISSICK: That's possible. Then I say, welcome to the ball game, because it's a reality. Disenfranchisement the still happens, even in the penal system. And I think we've got to address it. It would almost be like a person who's never been blind trying to tell a blind person how to see life.

BANFIELD: By the way, we need a three-hour show. No, we need a mini- series to talk about the number of black people in our prisons.


BANFIELD: How many are there because they should be, how many are there because they really shouldn't be.


BANFIELD: And you're going to be a part of it. I need you back on (INAUDIBLE) the death penalty.

MCKISSICK: And invite me back. I will be right there.

BANFIELD: You're on, without question. Thank you. It's nice to see you.

MCKISSICK: Thank you so much, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And I hope that, you know, I hope that this community doesn't end up sort of torn in the way --

MCKISSICK: I hope so.

BANFIELD: That the community with Zimmerman was, as well, because -

MCKISSICK: I hope we can do everything we can as leaders -

BANFIELD: But that we can all learn, as well.

MCKISSICK: We have to.

BANFIELD: Black, white, Hispanic, Asian -


BANFIELD: Everybody can take a lesson out of it because, through tragedy, at least sometimes we can better ourselves, understand each other better.

MCKISSICK: Yes, indeed. Indeed.

BANFIELD: Thank you so much. It was good to have you on.

MCKISSICK: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Coming up, about those charges, I keep telling you that there are these charges of first degree murder. Most people think that's something planned out, orchestrated, mapped out, lay in wait. No such thing. You could be a first degree murder in the blink of a thought, a second.

In this case, does this scream first degree murder, and how about the first degree attempted murder charges? Three other kids, attempted murder charges against all three, involving all three of those, as well. What about fighting those charges? Can you be acquitted of first degree murder but actually found guilty on the attempted? There's a lot of different ways this thing can be sliced up. You'll find out next.


BANFIELD: Welcome back, live from Jacksonville, Florida. I'm Ashleigh Banfield at the Duval County Courthouse where Michael Dunn is on trial for first degree murder and attempted first degree murder. It's a lunch break in this courthouse, so you're not missing any of the action. But I can tell you this, the charges don't get any more serious than that. And Mark O'Mara knows this well.

First degree murder, three counts of first degree attempted murder. Can you be found not guilty of first degree murder and yet guilty of attempted? Because those are some serious years.

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Under these facts, that's absolutely true, because what the prosecution has to show is that Dunn, at some point, came up with the desire intent to kill. It can be momentary, but he shot to kill without reason. The jury could say that's not true. They could actually say those first three shots were justified because of the fear of the shotgun, if they believe that.

BANFIELD: And we know -- we know fairly certainly that this young man died in the first three shots.

O'MARA: Yes, we do.

Now, they could forgive him for that. They could find that justified because of the shotgun issue. But then the shots afterward, six afterward, when seeming the threat was neutralized, then they could say those shots were not justified.

BANFIELD: Seven more shots.

O'MARA: Yes. Strolla's position in this case, what he has to do is convince that jury -


O'MARA: Yes, I'm sorry. Has to convince that jury that it was just all one event. It was one frantic, frenzy of shots thinking that he had to do it. Don't forget, most cops, when they shoot, they empty their gun. And the reason why is that they're trained to eliminate the threat and also it's the way your brain acts. When you shoot off that first shot, even though it's six pounds each, which is what the state's going to try and focus on, nonetheless, you're now acting in a limbic kind of survival state.

BANFIELD: Do you have to bring on an expert to convince - I don't know any of these jurors, I don't know if any of them has ever fired a gun at all. I mean --

O'MARA: Strolla needs to have a defense witness that says, here's the way people act when you're in a traumatic situation, like a shooting.

BANFIELD: When you fire.

O'MARA: Absolutely. A use of force expert, like we had in Zimmerman, should be on that stand explaining away his behavior.

BANFIELD: By the way, does that work? Because a lot of people are really upset that there are 10 shots fired. Does it work when you explain that? You shoot once, you might as well shoot 10 because that's the way the brain works.

O'MARA: And if it was one through 10 immediately, I think it's easier to explain. When you have that - that six seconds --

BANFIELD: Big pause.

O'MARA: That's an opportunity for reconsideration and maybe premeditation.

BANFIELD: Big pause. All right. Stand by. Thank you, Mark O'Mara. It's so great to have you here on this case.

O'MARA: Great to be here.

BANFIELD: And what a difference for you to be sitting here.

O'MARA: Much different.

BANFIELD: Because we have to talk about you back there. Mark O'Mara joining us -

O'MARA: More stressful here, I feel like (ph).

BANFIELD: It is, isn't it? Thank you. I appreciate that.

So we're going to continue our live coverage from here. Like I said, you aren't missing anything. The lunch break is ending shortly. Expect a request for a judgment - for acquittal right as soon as those attorneys come back. In the meantime, I would like to be the first person to tell you that you're about to watch "Wolf." The program is called "Wolf." It's his new 1:00 program - his new - yes, that's right, 1:00 program and it starts right after this quick break. Thanks for being with us live.