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As Pre-Trial Phase Ends, Michael Dunn Likely To Try 'Stand Your Ground' Defense

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office

Michael Dunn, the man charged in the shooting death of Jacksonville teen Jordan Davis, is in court this week for two final days of pre-trial hearings.Dunn is charged with shooting unarmed 17-year-old Davis at a Southside gas station last Thanksgiving after an argument over loud music.

The case has become a flashpoint over racial politics and "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida and has drawn national attention for it's similarities to the murder of Trayvon Martin.

Martin was killed by Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in that case earlier this year.

Former Assistant State's Attorneys Sam Garrison, current criminal defense attorney at the law firm Kopelousos, Bradley and Garrison, and Randy Reep, principal at The Law Offices of Randy Reep, joined Melissa Ross to discuss the next steps in the Dunn case.

"What you're seeing at this stage is an attempt by the court to resolve some of the more procedural motions that need to be taken care of with any trial, especially one that is as serious as the charges facing Mr. Dunn," Garrison said of the two days of scheduled hearings. 

Those motions will likely include requests for the jury to visit the crime scene and rules on who may be in the gallery during the trial, often referred to as "housekeeping" motions.

It is yet unclear whether Dunn will attempt to use the state's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law in his defense, but Randy Reep says it is likely.

"In a tough case like this, it's not wise to put the defendant on the stand to testify prior to the real trial, when there isn't a high likelihood of succeeding," Reep said, referencing the trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman.

Recently released letters by Michael Dunn written to family members from jailshowed frustration with the way the trial was proceeding and questioned whether he could get a fair trial in Jacksonville, leading some to believe a motion to change venues is forthcoming.

Credit Twitter
A young Jordan Davis being held by his father Ron Davis.

"From a criminal defense standpoint, certainly there may be advantages or disadvantages given publicity," Garrison said of a potential change of venue. "But I will tell you, it is a very high threshold, from a legal standpoint, to cross."

The Dunn trial is one of two recent high profile cases dealing with firearms and self defense.

Jacksonville resident Marissa Alexander was freed on bail last month after serving three years of a 20 year sentence for firing a warning shot past her allegedly abusive husband. A judge ordered a retrial in her case set to begin early next year.

Regardless of the facts of either case, Reep said, North Florida is now being perceived as a, "microcosm of race relations," for the entire U.S. Southeast.

"It's not healthy for the community," he said, "It's unfortunate that they're lumped together."

As for parallels to the Zimmerman case, Reep said there is one key difference that will make Dunn's case harder for the defense — witnesses.

"There was only one story to be told," he said of the Zimmerman case. "Sadly, the other person was dead."

"Here there are witnesses, and that's going to be the crushing part for the Michael Dunn case," he added.

The trial was postponed earlier this year because both the defense and prosecution said they would likely need to depose more than 100 witnesses each.

"The truth is, no one really knows," Garrison said, noting that the information made public in a case like Dunn's is only a sliver of what will ultimately be revealed at trial.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Patrick Donges @patrickhdonges.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.
Patrick Donges served as WJCT's Digital Content Editor from August 2013 - August 2014.