Michael Dunn Stand-Your-Ground Hearing Set for March

Former Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn, accused in the October 2018 homicide of a man trying to steal a hatchet from his store, is closer to a day in open court.

Meanwhile, Dunn’s recent pre-trial conditions allow him to be a freer man now than he was in the initial days after he was charged with second-degree murder.

He is accused of fatally shooting a shoplifter with a handgun, hitting 50-year-old Christobal Lopez twice as he exited Vets Army Navy Surplus on Florida Avenue on Oct. 3, 2018. The case against Dunn hinges on whether he is determined in court to have acted in self defense.

Dunn’s stand-your-ground hearing is scheduled to be heard all day March 5 in Circuit Court, with Judge Donald Jacobsen presiding.

Rusty Franklin, one of Dunn’s defense lawyers, and prosecutor Paul Wallace agree on little about the case. But they agree the case should be held in open court, not on a video screen.

After COVID-19 pushed most court proceedings online last year, some trials are now being held in live court.

But Franklin said he believes the stand-your-ground hearing will be delayed because of the pandemic. “It’s just another example of how Covid has changed our lives,” he said.

For Dunn to prevail in the hearing, he would have to convince the judge that his life or the lives of others were in jeopardy when he fired his handgun. Or that Lopez was committing a forcible felony.

If Dunn’s lawyers are able to prevail at the court hearing, Dunn would be a free man. If not, he will face a jury trial.

On a nationally circulated videotape of the shooting, Lopez appeared to be backing away from Dunn as Dunn fired.

Franklin said he believes the case went viral because of the video, not because of Dunn’s status as a commissioner.

That video, when played to jurors, will be “critically important to the case,” prosecutor Wallace said.

Dunn was granted pretrial release a week after the shooting. He was initially allowed to take a pre-arranged trip to Georgia to visit relatives.

In late December last year, Dunn’s release was modified at his lawyer’s request. The new conditions allow Dunn to go shopping, to travel outside the county for work and to walk in his neighborhood to see family.

Judge Jacobsen approved the release modification over the objections of prosecutor Wallace.

Wallace said relatives could come to see Dunn and someone can shop for him. “Those aren’t essential things,” Wallace said