The middle-aged white Florida man charged with fatally shooting a black teenager following an argument over loud music gave emotionally charged testimony Tuesday, telling the court that he thought he saw the barrel of a shotgun from a neighboring SUV pointed at him and that he feared for his life in the fateful moments before he fired his handgun.
Michael Dunn, 47, told jurors he tried to "de-escalate" the dispute with three teens in a Dodge Durango outside a Jacksonville, Fla., convenience store in November 2012.
"I was in fear for my life," Dunn said. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing."
Dunn, a software engineer, is charged with first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty and claims he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Jordan Davis, 17, of Marietta, Ga., on Nov. 23, 2012. Dunn’s defense attorney, Cory Strolla, rested his case Tuesday afternoon after calling his client to the witness stand.
Dunn told jurors he was in Jacksonville with his fiancee, Rhonda Rouer, to attend his son's wedding. He repeatedly broke down crying and dabbed his eyes with a napkin during his testimony Tuesday as he talked about Rouer and his 7-month-old dog, Charlie, whom he brought on the trip.
Dunn said he and Rouer drove up to a convenience store after the wedding. He said he parked in a spot right next to an SUV where music with a "loud thumping bass" was playing while Rouer went into the store to buy white wine and chips.
"It got really loud," Dunn said. "My rear view mirror was shaking, my eardrums were vibrating. It was ridiculously loud."
"I was in fear for my life. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing."
Dunn said he asked the three teens in the Durango to lower the volume — and they turned off the music. Dunn told jurors that he then thanked the boys — but not long after that, Dunn said he heard someone in the SUV hollering expletives, as well as "cracker" and "white boy."
The teens then turned the music back on at a high volume, Dunn said, adding: "I wasn't going to ask for favors anymore."
Dunn characterized the teens in the Durango as "menacing," and recalled that one of them wore a "scowl." He said he asked the teens if they were talking about him, adding that he was trying to "de-esclate" the situation.
During his questioning, Strolla likened the question to a famous line from the film "Taxi Driver": "Are you talkin' to me?" Dunn said that his "inflection" was on the word "me," suggesting he was not trying to instigate a confrontation.
He said that's when it appeared a teen in the backseat of the SUV reached down for an object, which he pressed into the car door. Dunn said it appeared that a barrel of a shotgun was sticking out the window.
Dunn said that one of the teens then exited the SUV — and he thought "this was a clear and present danger."
"I said, 'You're not gonna kill me, you son of a bitch,'" Dunn told jurors Tuesday.
He reached for his pistol in a glove box. And that's when Dunn, who had a concealed weapons permit, fired off nine shots into the car, according to an affadavit cited by The Associated Press.
No weapons were discovered in the SUV, the wire service reported. The prosecutor on the case has asserted that Davis did not pose a threat to Dunn.
"We didn't know anybody had been hurt. We just thought we made them go away."
Dunn said he and Rouer drove away immediately after the shooting, heading for a hotel.
"I'm shaking. I'm quivering like a leaf," Dunn said, adding that Rouer was extremely distraught and that he told her: "I didn't do anything wrong."
"We didn't know anybody had been hurt. We just thought we made them go away," he told jurors.
Dunn said when he and Rouer arrived at the hotel, he was a nervous wreck. He told jurors he first learned that the shooting had resulted in a fatality after reading a news report on his phone.
He said that's when he ran to the bathroom and vomited.
During cross-examination, prosecutor John Guy pushed back against Dunn's claim that he informed Rouer following the shooting that he thought one of the teens in the Durango had a gun.
"You never told the love of your life that those guys had a gun," Guy said. "Did you?"
Dunn replied flatly: "You were not there."
Guy later asked Dunn for his opinion of the music playing in the SUV at the time of the shooting, which Dunn said he would have characterized as "rap crap."
"It's not my style," Dunn said. "But, you know, when I was a kid, my folks didn't like rock and roll."
The prosecution and defense will deliver closing arguments starting on Wednesday after which the jury will begin deliberations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published February 11 2014, 10:13 AM