It’s said that the wheels of justice move slowly, which is the status quo in the 18-month-old second-degree murder case of former Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn.
Dunn is accused of killing a man who was shoplifting a hatchet in his downtown Vets Army Navy Surplus store in October 2018. The next step in his legal journey is a pretrial conference scheduled for March 31.
But the current dearth of activity on Dunn’s docket doesn’t reflect the emphatic rhetoric of one of Dunn’s defense lawyers, who said Dunn is a hero, not a monster.
Lawyer Rusty Franklin said Dunn doesn’t deserve to be punished. “He should be given a medal,” Franklin said.
John Chambliss, a spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office, said it would be inappropriate to comment on a pending case.
Dunn has been issued a $150,000 bond and is on house arrest.
He is accused of fatally shooting a shoplifter with a handgun, hitting 50-year-old Christobal Lopez twice as he exited the store on Oct. 3, 2018.
A stand-your-ground defense was quickly claimed by Franklin, but was unsuccessful before the grand jury that indicted Dunn.
Under Florida law, a person is justified in using deadly force if he or she believes it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.
All of that applies to Dunn, Franklin said. “But I’m not hanging my hat” on the first part.
He said by stealing the hatchet, Lopez was committing felony armed robbery with a deadly weapon and Dunn was justified in shooting him.
In 2018 State Attorney Brian Haas said he wanted his office to comply with the stand-your-ground law, but Dunn’s case fell outside the protection of that law.
A hearing date for Dunn’s stand-your-ground defense before Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen has not been set. If the defense prevails in the stand-your-ground hearing, Dunn will go free. If not, he will be scheduled for trial. He faces the maximum of a life sentence.
Widely watched video of the shooting was captured by a Vets surveillance camera. Dunn is seen grabbing Lopez and shooting him as he tried to flee the store.
Dunn made no visible attempt to help Lopez with first aid.
An autopsy showed that Lopez’s blood-alcohol level was 0.33 That’s a tick more than four times the Florida legal limit of 0.08.
The story has been circulated nationally.
Franklin said the video watched by people near and far is about six seconds long and Dunn has been judged unfairly by a “fast food” mentality.
Dunn resigned his seat on the Lakeland City Commission weeks after the shooting death. But Franklin said the fact that Dunn was a commissioner at the time of the shooting has nothing to do with the media’s huge appetite for the story.
“Someone got killed on TV,” he said