Jury in Michael Dunn trial deadlocked on murder charge
Updated On: Feb 15 2014 05:56:49 PM EST
After 28 hours of deliberations, the jury in the Michael Dunn trial says it has reached verdict on four of the five counts against Dunn, but is unable to reach a unanimous decision on count one of first-degree murder or any of the lesser included charges.
The judge was giving the jury the Allen charge, which urges them to come up with a verdict and gives them additional time to deliberate.
Dunn is charged with one count of first-degree murder, three counts of first-degree attempted murder, and one count of firing into an occupied vehicle. He claimed self-defense in the Nov. 23, 2012, Black Friday shooting, saying he saw what appeared to be the barrel of a shotgun after being threatened by 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
Less than an hour after the jury began its deliberations Saturday morning, the jurors sent out three questions:
- Is the defense of self-defense separate for each person in each count? Judge Russell Healey answered "Yes."
- Are we determining if deadly force is justified against each person in each count? Judge: "Yes."
- If we determine deadly force is justified against one person, is it justified against the others. Judge: "No. Self-defense and justifiable use of deadly force applies separately to each count."
Dunn and defense attorney Cory Strolla objected to the way the judge answered the last count, but that the judge overruled and gave that instruction to the jury and it was sent back into deliberations just after 10 a.m.
The 12 sequestered jurors returned to the courthouse just after 9 a.m. Saturday to begin its 22nd hour discussing whether Dunn is guilty of five different charges for firing 10 shots into an SUV full of teenagers on Nov. 23, 2012, causing the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
Healey said they jury requested several boxes of evidence in the jury room removed so they would have more room to spread out. The jury has asked 10 questions since it began deliberating Wednesday afternoon.
The jury's questions are good ones, according to legal analysts, but they also show that there may be so many charges and counts against Dunn that it's hard for the jurors to reach a unanimous decision.
"I think everything is consistent with them wanting to get it right, but it does speak to a little bit of confusion," analyst Randy Reep said. "I'm legal to defend myself against Jordan Davis, but popping those other bullets into the car would be attempted for people who it wasn't justified to. That is the distinction I think that they're struggling with there."
Davis' parents arrived early Saturday, saying they were hopeful for a favorable verdict. The victim's father, Ron Davis, again thanked everyone for the support, adding they hope they have something else to celebrate on Sunday -- which would have been Jordan's 19th birthday.
With people are anticipating a conclusion, the number of people waiting on the steps of the courthouse grew on Saturday. There were dozens of people with sings, some calling for Justice for Jordan and others in support of Dunn.
"I'm here waiting just like the rest of the country," said U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. " It's good that the jury is deliberating and taking their time and the instructions are very complicated. The issue is about Jordan and whether or not we can get justice for him, so failure is not an option."
Long day Friday
Judge Healey called off nearly 10 hours of deliberations Friday when the jury sent a note about 7 p.m. they had "hit a wall."
"This is one admirable group that's clearly taking this as seriously as they should," Judge Russell Healey told the courtroom as he released the jury Friday night. He urged the seven women and five men to get some "good rest" before resuming deliberations Saturday morning.
That came two hours after the jury asked the judge a question about reaching a verdict. The jury asked if they were allowed to reach a verdict on some of the five counts against Dunn, but not on others.
Judge Healey answered yes, that any count they cannot reach a unanimous verdict on could be declared a mistrial, and it would be up to the state if it wanted to re-file the charge 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 just after 5 p.m. Friday.
Dinner was ordered in and the jury kept at it two more hours before saying they had to break for the night.
Healey said he had researched the legal precedent for deliberations on weekends, and it appears the jury would be asked continue trying to reach a verdict both Saturday and Sunday, if necessary.
The jury's late-afternoon question was the first time they communicated with the judge all day Friday.
Some court observers were 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 teenagers 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. In the highly publicized trial of Jerry Sandusky, prosecuted for sexual crimes against children, it took jurors more than two days find him guilty. In the case of Scott Peterson, who was convicted of killing his wife and unborn child in California, the jury deliberated for seven days.
"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.
The National Criminal Justice Reference Service shows that the biggest factors in cases that end with hung juries are:
- A weak case
- Police credibility questions
- Concerns about fairness
- Complexity of the evidence and testimony
Attorney Cory Strolla made arguments during his defense of Dunn that the state's case was not beyond a reasonable doubt and he did question the thoroughness of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office's investigation.
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. He said a second trial probably could not happen before summer.
As for the effect of the gender and racial makeup of the jury, studies have found that it's easier for people of similar backgrounds to talk to each other and reach consensus. The 12 people sitting in judgment of Dunn include four white women, four white men, two black women, an Asian woman and an Hispanic man.
Studies reveal women are more compassionate than men in most criminal cases, although in cases involving sex crimes, women jurors are more ruthless. Jury experts say men tend to be harder on defendants who they believe are guilty or lying.
Nichols believes this jury will ultimately reach a verdict in this case.
"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.
The jury will remain sequestered for the duration of the trial. Healey also made the decision Thursday afternoon to also keep all four alternate jurors sequestered in case any of them was needed to step in for one of the 12 jurors currently in deliberations.
The court administration said that the media will be given at least 30 minutes notice when and if a verdict is reached before it will be announced.