Defendant Michael Dunn is shown in a television monitor as he reacts on the stand during testimony in his own defense during his murder trial in Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, Fla. Credit: Reuters
A middle-aged software engineer accused in the 2012 shooting death of a teenager during an argument over loud rap music in Jacksonville, Florida, testified on Tuesday that he thought he was "going to be killed" and acted in self-defense.
"I was in fear of my life and I was probably stunned," said Michael Dunn, 47, in his first day on the witness stand, where he broke down in tears several times.
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 tied to the November 23, 2012 shooting that killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
Dunn told the jury he opened fire because he thought Davis had a shotgun and was exiting his car to kill him.
"I thought I was going to be killed," he said.
The incident occurred at a gas station, where Dunn and his fiancée stopped to buy white wine on the way back to their hotel after attending the wedding of Dunn's son.
Dunn, dressed in a white shirt, green sweater and tie, choked up during the questioning on Tuesday. He said the music from a red Dodge Durango parked at the same gas station grew "really loud" after his fiancée went into the store.
"My review mirror was shaking, my eardrums were vibrating. It was ridiculously loud," Dunn said.
"I said, 'Can you turn that down please?'" he testified. "They turned it off. I said thank you."
But Dunn said the young men in the Durango soon began using expletives and then turned the volume back up.
"I start hearing things like F-him and F-that," he said. "It was mean-spirited."
Dunn's attorney, Cory Strolla, told the jury in his opening statement that Dunn opened fire only after seeing what looked like the barrel of a gun or a lead pipe through the Durango's back passenger window and that he was acting in self-defense as Davis was about to get out of the car.
Police found no weapon in the Durango after the shooting.
In an effort to bolster the state's claim that Davis was not acting aggressively and posed no threat, prosecutors on Monday showed the jury photos of Davis's body in what the medical examiner described as a defensive position. Assistant medical examiner Stacy Simons on Monday said Davis was leaning away from Dunn when the bullet entered his body.
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.
Dunn testified on Tuesday that he asked the teens to turn down the volume and thanked them when they complied. Soon after, Dunn testified, the teens turned the volume back up and he heard one say, "I should kill that (expletive)."
"I was in fear for my life, but I wasn't to the point where I was ready to use deadly force. I was just going, 'Oh my God, where is all this hostility coming from?'" Dunn said.
Davis appeared to lean down and pick up something which he said he thought was a 12-or 20-gauge shotgun, Dunn said.
"I saw sticking above the windowsill about four inches of a barrel," Dunn testified.
Next, he said he heard Davis pop open his door.
"As his (Davis's) head clears the window frame, he said ‘this shit's going down now,'" Dunn testified.
"What went through my mind is, 'This is clear and present danger and you are not going to kill me, you son of a bitch.' I said that as I was retrieving my pistol," Dunn testified.
He pointed his pistol, but did not aim, before firing, he added.
On the drive home, Dunn said he tried to reassure his fiance that they were in no trouble with police, although he said he told her, "We might be in trouble with the local gangsters."
"Again. I knew I had done nothing wrong," Dunn said.