Monday, February 17, 2014

Why Wasn't FLA 'Gunslinger' Michael Dunn Convicted of Murder in the 1st?

This is the question most of us would like to have answered. For any normal person, it's a no-brainer to find for murder in the 1st degree for any guy who  (without firm identification of any real threat) fires three shots at a fleeing vehicle after he's already emptied seven bullets into a car, killing one of the occupants, (Jordan Davis).   But see, in the state of Florida, because of one screwed up law, anything goes. You can become judge, jury and executioner merely on the psychological perception that a young black kid wants to off you, and hey, he and his bros were playing "thug" music too loud.

Such is the case with one Michael Dunn, who - if he isn't a blood brother or cousin of George Zimmerman- is at least a psycho clone of him. But unlike the George Zimmerman case, the Dunn case featured a straightforward application of Florida’s "stand your ground" law. Under the Florida state statutes (the law goes by "776.013"). : if Dunn had a "reasonable fear"  that he was about to suffer “great bodily harm,” then he had a legal right to shoot Davis to death, rather than, for example, choosing to protect himself by driving away, even if Dunn knew that driving away would have protected him from harm.

That is how insane this ridiculous law is. Even more perverse, as a TIME article on it ('The Law Heard Around the World', April 9, p. 36)  observes, you're invariably better off firing your gun once it's drawn. According to the article:

"Even though 'Stand Your Ground' excuses with the barest of evidence, Florida punishes the crime of simply pointing a gun at someone with a mandatory minimum of three years in prison. In other words, you can point a gun and go to prison, or you can fire your gun and go free under 'Stand Your Ground'."

How screwy is this insane law? It is so nutso that it places most of the burden of proof on the prosecution! Because the stand your ground law creates an affirmative defense for criminal defendants, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooter's claim, i. e.  that he had a reasonable fear he was about to suffer great bodily harm,  was false. Such laws, in effect, put the victim rather than the killer on trial.

It was for this reason there was a mistrial on the count of first degree murder, which in any normal state, would have been a veritable no- brainer.  As the prosecuting attorney put it, Dunn acted purely out of "pride". This, despite the fact he brought on the altercation himself. I mean, he's at a convenience store gas station - for maybe five minutes if that- and he finds it necessary to tell a car full of youngsters to turn the music down?  Why not just zip the lip, fill 'er up and freakin' leave!

But no, Dunn had to tell the kids to turn it down, and he then blew a gasket when they gave him some back chat, as kids will do. He then perceived the back chat as a personal slight, in fact a serious challenge to his manhood. He couldn't face them down squarely, minus  a weapon, knowing that his verbal altercation (with four teenaged boys)  harbored a non-trivial risk of him suffering great bodily harm. So he whipped out his gun - the great 'equalizer' -  and started firing, expecting the SYG law would protect him.

The jury then was faced with the typical SYG quandary, I mean, here was this poor little middle -aged white software developer faced with four black kids and playing ....lo and behold....'thug music'.  Thus, murder in the first wasn't on the table, at least for one juror  - hence the mistrial. In that juror (or jurors) mind, the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dunn wasn’t in reasonable fear of suffering great bodily harm. And hey,  if the prosecution couldn’t prove that, it meant Dunn had the legal right to choose to kill a teenaged boy – to “stand his ground” — rather than to retreat.

Never mind. Though Dunn escaped the most severe count, he was found guilty of four other counts including murder in the second degree and opening fire in a public place.  As one legal expert on MSNBC put it on Saturday night, he faces up to 20 years on each count and if the judge imposes the penalties consecutively, it's basically life in prison for Dunn.

One hopes this will be a lesson for any more would-be Jesse James wannabes, but in Florida don't count on it!

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