Michael Dunn jury continues deliberations
Updated On: Feb 15 2014 12:08:53 PM EST
The jury in the Michael Dunn first-degree murder trial returned Saturday to continue deliberations.
The jury is trying to reach a verdict on whether Dunn committed murder or was defending himself when he fired 10 shots at an SUV full of teenagers, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
The jury will returned for deliberations at 9 a.m. Saturday. They asked the judge just before 7 p.m. Friday if they could go back to the hotel and resume deliberations on Saturday.
The answer to the question, sent out to Judge Russell Healey just before 5 p.m. Friday, was yes. Any count they cannot reach a unanimous verdict could be declared a mistrial, and it would be up to the state if the state wanted to refile charges and hold a second trial.
"It sounds like they're close, so we'll just hope for the best and be in recess until we hear more from the jurors," Healey said.
The jury also asked if they could take a 30 minute break, which was granted.
Dinner was ordered in, so it appears they will continue deliberations into the evening. Healey said he had researched the history deliberations on weekends, and it appears the jury could be asked continue trying to reach a verdict both Saturday and Sunday.
As Davis' parents arrived at the courthouse Friday, Ron Davis said he was optimistic about the verdict, and thinks the jury taking its time to come to a decision is a good sign. Jordan's mother, Lucia McBath, said, "We're just praying for a just verdict.
Some court observers are beginning to speculate on a deadlocked jury, but others say it's not uncommon for a 12-member jury to go this long, particularly since they have to reach verdicts on five separate counts: first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder -- one each for the other three teenage in the SUV -- and one count of firing into an occupied vehicle.
Rhonda Peoples-Waters, an attorney providing legal analysis for Channel 4 during the trial, said that possibilities of the jury finding Dunn guilty of a lesser charge, or even reaching a deadlock are now being discussed.
"They can come into agreement on some of the counts, and not others," she said.
For perspective, George Zimmerman's six-member jury deliberated for 16 hours before finding him not guilty. The jury that acquitted Casey Anthony case -- which lasted 27 days -- deliberated for 10 hours and 40 minutes.
"There's always the possibility that they will come back to the judge and say 'Judge, we cannot reach a decision,'" said Gene Nichols, another lawyer helping give perspective to this trial for .
Nichols has defended clients whose trials have ended with a hung jury.
"The jury will come back and tell the judge, 'We cannot reach a decision.' And when they do that the judge is going to send them back in and just say, 'Talk about your issues. Go back and give it another try.'"
If the jury still can't reach a unanimous decision, "the judge will have to declare this a hung jury and everyone would have to go home, to try this case another day."
Nichols said Judge Russell Healey will not make this decision quickly or easily because retrying the case would be time-consuming and expensive.
Nichols believes this jury will ultimately reach a verdict.
"It's not very common to have a hung jury. At some point and time jurors recognize they need to make a decision, Nichols said.
The only time the public has seen Healey so far Friday was just after deliberations began when he told spectators and lawyers they were no longer able to wait in the courtroom for a verdict since there was concern that those in the jury room could hear muffled sounds coming from the adjoining courtroom.
Thursday: Full day of deliberations
The 12 jurors spent about eight and a half hours Thursday deliberating, viewing surveillance video inside the Gate convenience store as Dunn fired 10 shots at a SUV carrying Davis and three other teenagers, and making several other requests during the day.
As the jury deliberated the first-degree murder and other charges, Dunn's defense attorney took questions from the media in a courtroom next door.
"We are hoping that we have a brave jury," Cory Strolla said. "They have a hard job, but we hope they make the right decision."
Defense attorney Strolla said Dunn was in good spirits as he waits for a verdict.
"He is sitting behind a courtroom in a jail cell waiting for the jury," Stroll said of his client. "This is the hard part. It's out of our hands. There's nothing we can do. He's in good spirits; he's holding up. It's in the jury's hands and I have to respect that."
The defense attorney said the state resorted heavily on emotion, not on facts.
Strolla said the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office did not investigate this case as well as it should have because it had the attitude that this was just another shooting in the murder capital of Florida.
The attorney added that this case should not have drawn the attention it has.
"I personally believe there's a lot vested in the outcome of this case politically," Cory Strolla said. "Had we never heard about George Zimmerman, I don't think you or I would be standing in this courtroom talking about Mr. Dunn."
John Phillips, attorney for Davis' parents, said the family remains positive despite Strolla and and Dunn painting Jordan as a bad kid who was brandishing a shotgun.
"They're doing OK, but they're reliving the most tragic night of their lives, and it's hard," Phillips said, adding that family remains hopeful. "Anything that puts this man in jail for the rest of his life is justice."
Prosecutors have repeatedly said they will not make any comment until after the jury makes its decision.
A day of deliberations, questions
The seven women and five men charged with determining whether Michael Dunn is guilty of murder and four other charges went back to work about 9:35 a.m. Thursday. First up, they viewed surveillance video from inside the Gate convenience store the night Michael Dunn fired 10 shots at an SUV containing 17-year-old Jordan Davis and three other teens.
Clips of that video were played several times during the trial.
Four alternate jurors were kept sequestered overnight as well, but Judge Russell Healey said Thursday morning that one or more of them might be released by the end of the day.
Dunn, who has pleaded not guilty, faces life in prison if convicted of murder.
To conclude that the killing was justifiable, jurors must believe it occurred while resisting an attempt to murder or commit a felony against Dunn, Healey told jurors before they began deliberations Wednesday afternoon.
Besides first-degree murder, jurors could also consider the lesser crimes of second-degree murder or manslaughter, according to the jury instructions. Dunn also is charged with attempted murder for shots fired at Davis’ three friends.
Just after lunch Thursday, the jury asked if they could see "the dummy with sticks" -- a mannequin that the prosecution showed while the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy testified.
While neither the state nor defense objected, Judge Healey researched case law and said use of "demonstrative evidence" shown during jury deliberations was grounds for appeal in other Florida murder cases. He therefore told the jury they could not see the exhibit he nicknamed "Bendy."
Less than an hour later, the jury ask for a dry-erase easel and for 10 missing pages from the set of the written jury instructions they were provided. The judge agreed.
"Do whatever you need to do to make that work," Healey told prosecutors, handing over his set of jury instructions to be provided to the jury.
At 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the jury set out another question, this inquiring on the date of one of Michael Dunn's letters written from jail. (Answer: June 2013.)
While addressing that question, Healey said that the jury would continue to deliberate through 6:15 p.m. before being released for dinner, "Unless they reach a verdict before then."
When the jury stopped for the evening, they had completed just over 10 hours of deliberations.
Healey also made the decision to keep all four alternate jurors sequestered another night in case any of them was needed to step in for one of the 12 jurors currently in deliberations.
The court administration announced Thursday that the media will be given at least 30 minutes notice when and if a verdict is reached before it will be announced.