State evidence photo in first-degree murder trial of Michael Dunn in Jacksonville
By Susan Cooper Eastman
JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Reuters) - A black teenager shot dead by a middle-aged white man in Florida after an argument over loud rap music, was unarmed and never threatened his assailant, a court heard on Friday.
In testimony that centered on events leading up to the November 23, 2012, shooting, three friends of the 17-year-old victim, Jordan Davis, testified they were caught by surprise when Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old software engineer, opened fire on their SUV at a Jacksonville gas station in north Florida.
Moments before the shooting, one of the teens Tevin Thompson, 18, said he heard Dunn ask: "Are you talking to me?" He then said he saw Dunn pull out a 9 mm pistol, turn toward Davis and fire.
Dunn is being tried in state court on one count of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of firing a deadly missile into an occupied vehicle. He faces life in prison, if convicted.
The deadly expletive-laced altercation began at a gas station, where Davis and three male friends had stopped on a night out mall hopping and hoping to meet girls.
The driver of the SUV, Tommie Stornes, 19, wanted to buy cigarettes, as well as gum, because Davis said it might help with the girls.
"You all's breath stink," Thompson said Davis told them, smiling in a rare moment of humor.
The case has drawn comparisons with the prosecution of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. In both cases, the victims were black teens killed by men who said they believed their lives were in danger.
In opening statements on Thursday, prosecutors said Dunn overreacted to loud music coming from the SUV and could have avoided a confrontation. The defense maintained Dunn was justified in using deadly force under the state's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law.
State prosecutor John Guy recounted how the argument broke out after the teens pulled into the gas station in a red Dodge Durango. Dunn and his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, stopped at the same gas station store after attending the wedding of Dunn's son, and parked their car next to the Durango.
The music was so loud, the defense said, that Dunn asked the teens to turn it down. He only opened fire after seeing what looked like the barrel of a gun or a lead pipe through the back passenger window, the defense said.
One of the other teens in the car, Leland Brunson, 18, testified on Friday that Davis did not have a weapon in his hand. Brunson said Davis pointed at Dunn with his right hand as he was talking to him, and his left arm was across the back of the seat.
At one point toward the end of the argument, Davis had a cell phone in his right hand, he said.
Police found no weapon in the Durango, although Dunn's attorney said in his opening statement that the teens had time to discard any weapon before police arrived.
Thompson told the court the cars were so close he was face-to-face with Dunn and would not have been able to open his car door to get out.
The music was so loud he did not hear Dunn ask the teens to turn it down, although he saw him mouth the words: "Turn your music down .... I can't hear myself think."
When asked to describe how Dunn appeared, Thompson replied: "A little angry and upset."
Thompson told prosecutors he didn't see or hear Davis threaten Dunn, but he did keep talking to him. At one point, Thompson reached over and used driver's controls to roll up Davis' car window to about three inches from closing, but the teen kept jawing with Dunn.
"When did you first see the gun?" Guy asked Stornes. "Pointing at me," the teen replied.
"What was your reaction?" Guy asked.
"To try to get away?" he answered. "I remember hearing glass shattering ... I was in a panic."
The prosecution said the first three bullets entered the Durango's rear passenger door in a tight cluster, passing through the metal and entering Davis' body, ripping through his liver and shredding an aorta in his chest. The next three bullets struck the front passenger door, where Thompson was sitting, along the length of the door from the handle to the door hinge, according to a photo shown in court.
Stornes backed the SUV out of the gas station and gunned it into an adjacent strip mall, where he stopped. He called everyone's name. "Everyone answered but Jordan," he said. "He was gasping for air."
(Changes attribution for quote in paragraph 19, from Thompson to Stornes)
(Writing by David Adams. Editing by Gunna Dickson)