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Jax Daily Record Monday, Feb. 17, 201412:00 PM EST

'Everybody lost something' in Michael Dunn split verdict

by: Marilyn Young

People who never met Jordan Davis were likely thinking of him Sunday, on what would have been his 19th birthday.

Attorneys who prosecuted his killer and defended the shooter.

Jurors who listened for days and talked for 30 hours about the shooting that took the teenager’s life.

Protesters who carried signs demanding justice for Davis, who was shot in a 2012 confrontation that started over loud music.

Based on the jurors’ verdicts, Michael Dunn, 47, could spend the rest of his life in prison for firing 10 shots at an SUV that contained four teenagers.

They found Dunn guilty Saturday night on three counts of attempted second-degree murder, which each carry a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years. He also was convicted of one count of shooting or throwing deadly missiles, which brings a 15-year term.

But in the end, jurors couldn't decide whether Davis’ death was murder or self-defense.

Early signs of trouble

Jurors signaled early Saturday that there were issues.

In the morning, they asked whether self-defense could be considered separately in each count. Judge Russell Healey said yes.

About seven hours later, they said they had reached verdicts on four counts but could not agree on the Davis charge. Under the so-called Allen charge, Healey instructed them to continue deliberating.

Just after 6:15 p.m., they wanted clarification on whether the entire case would be a mistrial if they couldn’t agree on the murder charge or just that one count. Healey said it was the latter. The confusion was based on written instructions given to the jury, which the judge said was his mistake.

A half-hour later, they admitted they were hopelessly deadlocked on the one charge, for which Healey declared a mistrial.

As the verdicts were read for the other charges, the courtroom was silent.

Afterward, Healey thanked the jurors for their work and reminded them they didn’t have to talk to anyone — including the media or the attorneys — if they didn’t want to.

They quickly let it be known they didn’t want to and left to return home for the first night in nearly two weeks.

Grieving parents

Davis’ parents led off a series of news conferences Saturday night.

His mother, Lucia McBath, said they were “so very happy to have just a little bit of closure.”

“It’s sad for Mr. Dunn that he will live the rest of his life in that sense of torment,” McBath said.

She said she would pray for him and would ask her family to do the same.

Despite the mistrial, she said, “We will continue to stand and we will continue to wait for justice for Jordan.”

His father, Ron, said his son “was a good kid.”

As he talked about the time in prison Dunn faces, he said, “He’s going to learn that he must be remorseful for the killing of my son (and) that it was not just another day at the office. My son will never be just another day at the office.”

They then walked out to begin another night in a lifetime of nights without their son.

Prosecutor will retry Dunn

State Attorney Angela Corey brushed off criticism she overcharged Dunn by filing a first-degree murder charge. It was similar to the criticism she received in the George Zimmerman trial, which ended in a not guilty verdict.

“Ten times out of 10, when someone fires 10 shots into a car full of unarmed teenagers, we will file first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder,” Corey said.

She said her office would meet with Davis’ parents, but “as far as we’re concerned we intend to retry him, retry Michael Dunn on first-degree murder.”

As for what prosecutors may adjust in the retrial, Corey said it’s hard to say until they know what caused the deadlock. “Jury feedback is excellent for that,” she said.

Summing up her feelings about the case, Corey said, “When you’re seeking justice for four different victims and you get a verdict that speaks to justice for three of those victims, it makes you more determined to seek justice again for that fourth victim.”

For Corey, it was the second night in seven months in which she failed to get a murder conviction in a case watched across the nation.

Disappointment, disbelief and devastation

Dunn’s attorney, Cory Strolla, said he was disappointed, his client was in disbelief and his client’s parents were devastated.

“Everybody lost something in this,” he said Saturday night. “I think tomorrow there’s going to be two sets of families that are going to be grieving because of what happened here.”

Strolla talked about an appeal in the case, but isn’t sure if he will still be Dunn’s attorney at that point.

He called the 30 hours of deliberations “probably the most stressful hours of my life. I can’t even imagine what it was like for Mr. Dunn.”

Those 30 hours and the decision that followed brought mixed emotions for Strolla.

“The fact they were out for 30 hours, I literally have no regrets,” he said, “but at the same time they came back with a conviction, so I have all the regrets. It’s miserable to be in this position.”

He recounted the final words he shared with Dunn after the verdict. He told him to stay strong and that they were still going to fight.

“We smiled at each other and unfortunately, he went one way and I went the other,” Strolla said.

For his client, it’s the first night of knowing, barring an intervention by the court, he may spend the rest of his life in prison.

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