THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE –Weighing a racially tinged case that drew national attention, an appeals court heard arguments Tuesday about whether Michael Dunn was acting in self-defense when he fatally shot teenager Jordan Davis in 2012 in the parking lot of a Jacksonville convenience store.
Dunn’s attorney, Terry Roberts, has raised a series of issues in trying to overturn Dunn’s first-degree murder conviction. But most of Roberts’ arguments before a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal focused on whether Dunn acted justifiably in self-defense — an argument that Roberts contends should lead to an acquittal.
But Assistant Attorney General Matthew Pavese asked the appeals court to uphold Dunn’s conviction, in part pointing to Dunn’s testimony that he thought Davis had a shotgun and was trying to get out of a vehicle during a dispute about loud music. Pavese said there were no firearms in the Dodge Durango.
The judges asked a series of questions of the attorneys, including questions about Dunn’s belief that Davis had a shotgun and how that should factor into the self-defense claim.
At one point, Judge Thomas Winokur said Dunn didn’t have to prove Davis had a shotgun.
“The law is what Mr. Dunn reasonably believed,” Winokur said.
But at another point, Judge Ross Bilbrey cited a number of witnesses who said Dunn’s belief about a shotgun was not “reasonable.”
The panel did not indicate Tuesday how it would rule, as appeals courts often take weeks or months to decide cases.
The Dunn case drew national media attention and came amid increased scrutiny of the deaths of young black men. As an example, the death of the 17-year-old Davis came about nine months after teen Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in Sanford. Dunn is white, and Davis was black.
After two trials, Dunn was convicted on the murder charge and sentenced to life in prison.
The shooting incident came after Davis and three friends stopped at a Gate convenience store and Dunn pulled in to an adjacent parking space. The teens were listening to loud music, and Dunn asked them to turn it down. Ultimately, Dunn and Davis exchanged words, and Dunn fired repeatedly into the Dodge Durango that carried the teens.
During the arguments Tuesday, Roberts said Dunn at first asked politely for the music to be turned down but that Davis “went into a rage.”
But along with probing the issue about whether Dunn believed Davis had a shotgun, the judges also tried to sort out claims related to what Davis and Dunn said during the dispute.
Dunn contended that Davis threatened him, but others in the vehicle testified they did not hear threats, Pavese said.