Former Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for the October 2018 shooting death of Cristóbal Lopez, a suspected shoplifter who died of a gunshot wound in his back just outside the door to Dunn’s Army-Navy Surplus store.
State sentencing guidelines called for Dunn, 51, to receive a minimum 10 years and four months in prison, but Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen cited his uncoerced plea agreement with prosecutors in departing from the guideline sentence.
In March, Dunn had pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter with a firearm in exchange for a maximum sentence of 17.5 years. The manslaughter plea would have carried a maximum sentence of 30 years without the plea agreement.
Dunn had been facing an indictment for second-degree murder with a firearm, which is punishable up to life, when he entered the plea agreement.
In sentencing Dunn on Monday, Jacobsen adjudicated him guilty, which means he will lose many of his civil rights, including the right to vote or hold public office.
Dunn, who was in his first term as a city commissioner when the shooting took place, was fingerprinted and taken into custody after Monday’s sentencing hearing. He had been on house arrest since being released on a $150,000 bond following his 2018 arrest, according to court records.
Dunn initially had sought immunity under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, arguing that Lopez, 51, had been armed with a hatchet he had taken from the store. Prosecutors argued Lopez had not wielded the hatchet in a threatening manner, and Jacobsen ruled last year that the state law didn’t apply in this case.
In sentencing Dunn on Monday, Jacobsen said he has reviewed the surveillance footage of the shooting frame by frame, and the shooting took only a split second.
“But a gun was raised and a man was shot in the back as he was exiting a store,” he said.
About a dozen people testified to Dunn’s character Monday, saying the shooting was out of character for him. In the weeks since Dunn’s plea, nearly 50 people, including elected officials, sent letters to Jacobsen seeking leniency for their friend.
Jacobsen told those who had crowded into the Bartow courtroom Monday that he acknowledged their support for Dunn, but state law limited how much that could influence his sentence.
“I am not sitting here judging the character of this man; the soul and heart of this man,” he said. “I am having to judge the circumstances of the crime.”
In a 12-minute statement to Jacobsen, Dunn said he acted out of fear that morning.
“You see the man with the hatchet coming around to you, and staring basically through you — it’s fear. I would almost say, from that point, you’re almost on auto-pilot. I don’t know how else to explain it.
“I remember not having my auditory,” he said. “I remember things seeming muffled, things seeming (in) slow motion.”
He expressed condolences to Lopez’s two aunts, who testified Monday to the impact losing him has had on their lives. They also testified that they have forgiven Dunn.
Orlando lawyer Mark O’Mara, representing Dunn, sought to have him released Monday with probation.
“This is about as close to self-defense as you can get and not have self-defense,” he said, adding there was nothing in the surveillance video to suggest that Dunn had gone after Lopez with the intent to shoot him.
Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace, in seeking a guidelines sentence, said Lopez was just trying to leave the store when he was shot twice.
“This was not a situation where Mr. Lopez was provoking any kind of a violent confrontation,” Wallace said. “He simply was trying to get out the door.”
After the hearing. O’Mara said he was satisfied with the judge’s ruling.
“I think the Dunn family understands that a life was lost,” he said, “and that tragedy — the Legislature says when you do that and you do that with a gun, we will punish you. I think that three years is understandable, based on the loss of life.”
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