Professor Plum looked somber as he came into the mail room. “People are seething about the Michael Dunn verdict,” he said.

He read the mail. (More)

Professor Plum left with Ms. Scarlet to join the resident faculty in the wine cellar mail room, where they’ll spend the weekend drinking thinking on our motto of Magis vinum, magis verum (“More wine, more truth”).

The Professor of Astrology Janitor was also grumbling about the verdict. He bailed out of the staff poker game and went with Chef to the kitchen to make a Crab and Spinach Breakfast Casserole, leaving your lowly mail room clerk to review the week’s correspondence….

+++++

Dear Ms. Crissie,

You were a criminal appellate attorney in Florida, so maybe you can explain the Michael Dunn verdicts. How can a jury vote to convict a man of attempted murder for the three young black men he shot at and missed in that car, but not convict him of murder for the young black man he hit and killed? Is “I thought he was armed” enough of a reason to kill someone in Florida, if the victim is a black man? Did the prosecutor make a mistake by charging Dunn with first degree murder? Why didn’t the jury hear about the neighbor who said Dunn bragged that he always wanted to shoot somebody? Were some of the jurors voting based on race? I don’t understand these verdicts at all. I just know it feels like open season on young black men in Florida.

Baffled and Outraged in Blogistan

Dear Baffled and Outraged,

We understand your confusion and your outrage. That said, we don’t know that any of the twelve jurors wanted to acquit Michael Dunn on the murder charge. They may have all agreed that Dunn murdered Jordan Davis, but could not all agree on the degree of the crime.

The prosecutor charged Dunn with first degree murder, and that requires the state to prove premeditation, the highest level of criminal intent. It means the accused made a conscious decision to kill before committing the act itself. Florida law does not set a minimum time that must pass between premeditation and the act of killing, but there must be enough time to allow at least a moment of reflection. The jury decides whether a murder was premeditated based on the evidence of the circumstances of the killing and the conduct of the accused.

Under Florida law, a first degree murder charge always carries the lesser included offenses of second degree murder and manslaughter. If the jury agree the defendant did not premeditate the act, they must consider the lesser charges.

For second degree murder, the state must prove the death was caused by an intentional act that was imminently dangerous and demonstrated a depraved mind without regard for human life. The state need not prove the defendant intended to kill. Instead, the state must prove the defendant intended to commit the act that caused death, that a person of ordinary judgment would know that act was reasonably certain to cause death or serious bodily harm, that the act was done from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent, and that the act itself showed an indifference to human life.

For manslaughter, the state must prove the death was caused by an intentional act, or by an act of culpable negligence – conduct showing reckless disregard of human life, or of the safety of persons exposed to its dangerous effects, or such an entire want of care as to raise a presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences, or which shows wantonness or recklessness, or a grossly careless disregard for the safety and welfare of the public, or such an indifference to the rights of others as is equivalent to an intentional violation of such rights.

Again, the jurors may have agreed that Dunn did not act in self-defense and was guilty of some form of homicide, but could not agree on whether Dunn acted with premeditation, a depraved mind, or culpable negligence. Unless all twelve jurors agree on the degree of the offense, the judge must declare a mistrial.

Thus, we do not see this verdict as proof that the jury accepted the “I thought he had a weapon” defense, that their deliberation was colored by racial bias, or that the prosecutor ‘over-charged’ the crime.

As for the video of a neighbor describing Dunn’s prior behavior and statements, under Florida law character evidence is inadmissible except to rebut a defendant’s claimed character traits. That is the law because jurors may be unduly swayed by such evidence and vote to convict simply because they think the defendant is a bad person, even if the state can’t prove the defendant committed the specific crime for which he is charged. Had Dunn or a defense witness testified that Dunn was a peaceful man who had never committed or even considered an act of violence until that day, prosecutors could have called the neighbor to rebut that testimony. But because such evidence is so prejudicial, judges are very cautious about admitting it and the prosecutors may have decided not to introduce it.

We hope this helps explain the charges and the verdicts.

+++++

Dear Ms. Crissie,

It does, but I’m still crabby about this verdict. Is that why Chef is making Crab and Spinach Breakfast Casserole? And how do I make that?

Crabby but Craving in Blogistan

Dear Crabby but Craving,

Chef said she made this recipe both because she feels crabby and because it’s delicious. To make it, first cook 10 ounces of spinach in ½ cup of chicken stock and drain it. Then melt 4 Tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan and stir in 6 Tablespoons of all purpose flour to make a roux. Once the roux begins to brown, add 6 beaten eggs, ½ minced onion, 24 ounces of cottage cheese, 8 ounces of grated cheddar cheese, 12 ounces of canned crab meat, and the spinach. Pour the mixture into a lightly-greased 9×13″ casserole dish, sprinkle grated cheddar cheese over the top, and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes. Chef serves this as a spread on Melba rye toast. Bon appétit!

+++++

Sources:

Baffled and Outraged in Blogistan; first degree murder and premeditation; second degree murder and depraved mind; manslaughter and culpable negligence; he always wanted to shoot somebody; character evidence is inadmissible except to rebut a defendant’s claimed character traits.

+++++

Happy Sunday!