While he was sentencing Michael Dunn to life in prison without parole for murdering 17-year-old Jordan Davis in 2012, Florida Judge Russell Healey on Friday made a declaration with which many onlookers may have a hard time agreeing: “This case demonstrates that our justice system does work,” he said.
That was quite a statement in a case that actually took two trials before a jury found Dunn guilty of killing the unarmed teen. Dunn took matters into his hands after he argued with Davis and his friends about the volume of their music, which he called “rap crap.”
After more than 30 hours of deliberation, the first jury found Dunn guilty of three counts of attempted murder for firing into the car where Davis was sitting with three of his friends at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station. But they could not agree on the murder charge — essentially finding the 47-year-old white man guilty of attempting to kill the teens, but not guilty of succeeding in killing Davis.
The jury verdict became a part of the recent evidence cited by African-Americans — in addition to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin — that it is extremely difficult for African-Americans to find justice in America through the court system. Many studies have proven that the criminal justice system is decidedly slanted against African-Americans at every stage, from arrest to conviction to sentencing to imprisonment.
But Duval County Judge Healey apparently was taken with the idea that Dunn’s conviction in the second trial was evidence that the system had somehow corrected itself in the eight months since the first trial.
“Mr. Dunn, your life is effectively over,” Healey told Dunn. “What is sad … is that this case exemplifies that our society seems to have lost its way.”
The judge said Florida’s “stand your ground” law was being misinterpreted.
“We should remember there is nothing wrong with retreating and de-escalating the situation,” the judge said.
That is precisely what Dunn did not do in this case. He claimed he saw the barrel of a gun sticking out of the Durango, so he fired 10 bullets, nine of which struck the SUV. Police found a basketball, basketball shoes, clothing, a camera tripod and cups inside the Durango. But there was no gun.
While he didn’t address Healey’s contention that the verdict is evidence the system works, Davis’ father, Ron Davis, did say the judge had sent a strong message.
“We may have in this state ‘stand your ground’ laws, but that doesn’t allow you as a citizen, when you have a chance to diffuse a situation, for you to be so aggressive,” he told CNN on Friday. “It’s basically saying to people, stop with the shoot first.”
Before the sentencing, Dunn for the first time apologized to Davis’ family.
“I want the Davis family to know I truly regret what happened,” he said. “I’m sorry for their loss. If I could roll back time and do things differently, I would.”
He said he feared for his life.
“I did what I thought I had to do,” Dunn said. “Still, I am mortified I took a life, whether it was justified or not.”
While Davis’ mother, Lucia McBath, said in court that she forgave Dunn, the father said he did not.
“I too must be willing to forgive,” McBath said. “And so I choose to forgive you Mr. Dunn for taking my son’s life. I pray that God has mercy on your soul.”
Afterwards, Davis said Dunn’s apology was “paper thin.”
“You can tell the defense attorney wrote that for him,” he told CNN. “It was not heartfelt. There wasn’t a tear in his eyes, no tremble in his voice. He had no remorse whatsoever.”
“For me to forgive you, you have to have remorse,” he said. “I leave it to God to forgive him. I pray that God does forgive him.”