Opening statements paint starkly different pictures of what led to Jordan Davis' killing
Michael Dunn has pleaded not guilty to murder, three counts of attempted murder
The confrontation started when Dunn asked a group of teens to turn down their music
Defense insists Davis brandished weapon; police, prosecutors say he wasn't armed
Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis. That’s not in dispute, but according to attorneys’ opening statements Thursday in Dunn’s murder trial, almost everything else is.
Assistant State Attorney John Guy, speaking for the prosecution, painted a picture of four innocent teens who stopped at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station for gum and cigarettes amid a day of “mall hopping and girl shopping” over Thanksgiving break in 2012. Dunn asked the teens to turn down their music, and Jordan disrespected him, saying “F*** that n****r” – nothing more – and for that, Dunn opened fire, hitting Jordan three times.
It was a markedly different account from that of defense attorney Cory Strolla, who told jurors that the music was so loud, it was rattling the windows of the teens’ SUV, and when Dunn politely asked one of them to turn it down, Jordan uttered the three-word explicit phrase, demanded his pal turn the music back up and began jawing with Dunn.
Jordan then produced a weapon – either a gun or a lead pipe, Strolla alleged – and told Dunn, “I’m going to f***ing kill you,” the attorney said. He added, “You’re dead, bitch. This is going down now,” the attorney alleged.
While Guy said Jordan and Dunn “exchanged f-bombs back and forth,” Strolla said his client never uttered a curse word. And while Guy cited witnesses who said an incensed Dunn began shooting after telling Jordan, “You’re not going to talk to me like that,” Strolla insisted that Jordan was getting out of the car, armed, with the intention of hurting or killing Dunn.
“The first person to get upset, and the only person to curse was Jordan Davis,” Strolla said, adding that one of the teens with Jordan, Leland Brunson, initially told police Jordan was getting out of the car when the shots rang out.
Four days later, Strolla said, the teens claimed driver Tommie Stornes had the child locks activated, preventing Jordan from getting out.
“You know why he didn’t duck? He was getting out of the car with a weapon,” Strolla said.
Dunn initially fired three times into Jordan’s door, which Guy said was closed, a bullet landing in each of Jordan’s legs while a third bullet traveled through his liver, lungs and aorta. A “terrified” Stornes backed up, “but the defendant didn’t stop. He kept focus and aimed at the car,” firing four more times, Guy said.
Dunn then opened the door of his Volkswagen, swung his legs out of the car and fired three more times, the prosecutor said. One bullet went through the back window of Stornes’ Dodge Durango and landed in the visor just above his head, Guy said.
Police reports have indicated that the teens were unarmed, and a police interrogator told Dunn the day after the November 2012 shooting that the teens didn’t have a chance to ditch any weapon because they never left the gas station parking lot. Dunn repeatedly said he feared for his life and saw either a shotgun barrel or a stick in the teens’ SUV before he began shooting.
When police searched the car, Guy said, they found a basketball, basketball shoes, some clothing, a camera tripod and cups on the floor but “no weapons.”
This promises to be a bone of contention in the case, as Strolla told jurors that not only did the teens leave the gas station parking lot, they stopped in an adjacent lot about 100 yards away before returning and asking someone to call 911. They had “ample time to get rid of a firearm or pipe,” Strolla said.
Also, Strolla said, the witnesses cannot account for two of the teens’ whereabouts immediately after the shooting, and two witnesses initially told police the teens appeared to be “stashing” something.
No weapon was found because the police did not secure the parking lot to conduct a proper search, Strolla said, and it was days before authorities looked in the nearby bushes and Dumpsters.
Though it doesn’t appear to be a factor in the case, Jordan did have a knife in his pocket. Guy classified it as a “pocket knife,” a description with which Strolla took issue, saying it was a tactical knife with a 4-inch blade.
“It’s not a Swiss Army knife with a toothpick and scissors,” he said.
What happened immediately after the shooting is also arguable, to hear the attorneys tell it. Dunn and his girlfriend, Rhonda Rouer, drove 40 miles south to St. Augustine, where they had reservations at a bed and breakfast.
Once there, Guy said, Dunn ordered pizza, “took his little dog for a walk,” ordered a movie and “poured a big, tall drink – rum and Coke.”
“They had cell phones, but they didn’t call 911. He didn’t drive to a police substation,” Guy said. “That defendant put his head on his hotel pillow and went to sleep.”
In the morning, Rouer saw a news report about a shooting at a Jacksonville gas station, in which a 17-year-old had been killed, and rather than call police, the couple packed their bags and drove 130 miles home to Satellite Beach, where Dunn was finally apprehended.
Dunn “was waiting till we get around people we know” to call authorities, and he wanted to ensure “our dog and everybody were where they needed to be. I did not want to bring a s**tstorm down on them in Jacksonville,” he told interrogators the day after the shooting.
Strolla added that it wasn’t Dunn who ordered pizza, but Rouer, who was nervous meeting Dunn’s family for the first time that day. She hadn’t eaten much at Dunn’s son’s wedding and ordered the pizza because she was hungry, Strolla said.
“She’s the one who watched the movie to put herself to sleep,” the defense attorney said.
Rouer is also to blame for the couple traveling home the next morning, he said. She was “petrified” and “didn’t know the law of self-defense” and begged Dunn to take her back to Satellite Beach, Strolla said.
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Witness credibility promises to be an issue as well, as the driver of teens’ car, Stornes, was on probation and violating curfew at the time of the shooting. Also, Strolla said, the witness who reported Dunn’s license plate to police is in prison and tried to leverage his testimony in Dunn’s trial for a lighter sentence.
Dunn has pleaded not guilty to first degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder. Between iffy witnesses and what Strolla called a shoddy investigation, the evidence will show that Dunn’s actions were lawful and justified, the defense attorney said. Had Dunn not been armed, he might have been the victim that evening, Strolla said.
“God didn’t make all men equal. Colt did. Colt is a firearm,” Strolla said. “(Dunn) had every right under the law to not be a victim, to be judged by 12 rather than carried by six.”
The prosecution unsurprisingly has a different take. Guy said Dunn was simply incensed by the heavy bass coming from a nearby car – even telling Rouer before she went to buy wine and chips, “I hate this music” – and he began shooting when a teen defiantly took issue with being told what to do.
“Jordan Davis was sitting in his car seat with the door closed with nothing in his hands,” Guy told the jury. “Michael David Dunn pointed a semiautomatic pistol at four unarmed kids at a distance much closer than you and I.”
John Phillips, an attorney for the Davis family, told CNN he expects a quick trial, over before February 14, two days before what would have been Davis’ 19th birthday.