(The Root) — Just two days after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman, Jacksonville, Fla., lawyer Cory Strolla stood in the Florida State Court hallway and spoke to a huddle of reporters.
“I worry they’re going to say, ‘We lost Zimmerman, so let’s get Michael Dunn,’ ” Strolla said, referring to Florida State Attorney Angela Corey.
Strolla, an experienced defense lawyer, said he was worried that Dunn, his client, will get the punishment that Zimmerman did not. In November 2012, Dunn, a 46-year-old white Florida software developer, shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis, an unarmed black boy, after a verbal confrontation about loud music in a Jacksonville convenience-store parking lot. But victims-rights and gun control advocates, Jordan’s parents and others watching the case fear that Strolla is terribly wrong and another Florida civilian with a gun will not be punished for taking the life of yet another unarmed black teen because, like Zimmerman, Dunn says he was afraid.
Sometime between now and September, Dunn is expected to seek immunity — that’s an all-out free pass on any criminal or financial penalties — in a “Stand your ground” hearing in front of a Florida judge. Dunn will have to convince the judge that he feared for his life. If that effort fails, a Florida judge and jury in one of the most conservative and gun-loving parts of the state will wade through an admixture of stereotypes and suspicion, as well as Florida gun-possession and weapons-use policies, to determine Dunn’s fate.
Some combination of that same cocktail sent Zimmerman home a free man. So Jordan’s parents, gun control and victims-rights advocates are all asking the same question: Could it happen again?
“As crazy as that sounds,” said Sam Hoover, a staff attorney at the San Francisco-based nonprofit Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “that’s a distinct possibility. The reality is that Florida law gives these shooters an escape.”
Zimmerman’s lawyers did not make an explicit “Stand your ground” claim before his trial began, but testimony about the law was introduced. And because it is a part of Florida’s legal code, “Stand your ground” language is included in the jury’s instructions, something that could not have happened before the 2005 law was passed.
Ladd Everitt, communications director for the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, a nonprofit lobbying group, bluntly described what could happen as Dunn’s case moves forward.
“What people have to understand is that ‘Stand your ground’ legalized murder,” he said. “If you happen to be a concealed-carry permit holder, well, you might get off scot-free, even if someone is dead.”
Jordan’s parents, already carrying the burden of losing their son to a legally armed and emboldened Florida civilian, are, like many other Americans, reeling from the Zimmerman verdict. They have, according to their lawyer, grown particularly close to Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s parents.