Defense accomplishes little in cross of homicide detective, fiancé, others
We ended the mid-day wrap up–available here: Mid-Day Wrap-Up: “Loud Music” Murder Trial, Day Three— still engrossed in the direct examination of Detective Kipple by State Attorney Angela Corey, and in particular with an image of the trajectory dowels marking bullet strikes #7, #8, and #9 into the front passenger-side door of the Durango (the three sharply angled dowels toward the front of the vehicle).
It was the sharp angle of these bullet strikes that prevents Kevin Thompson, sitting behind that door, from being hit. Although these rounds penetrated the outer skin of the door, they merely dimpled the inner surface and became trapped inside the door. Fragments were recovered from inside the front passenger door.
Strolla began his cross by seeking to undermine Kipple’s training, noting that his “buried body training” would have had little utility in this case. Kipple disagreed, preferring to characterize as all his training as a collective whole that was useful in any case.
Strolla also snarked about the fact that the dowels were somewhat flexible, especially the multi-segmented dowel running from the rear to the front of the SUV, and that bullets didn’t fly in a curved path. Kipple insisted the dowels were an accurate indicator of the bullets’ trajectories.
Seeking to limit the damage of Corey’s direct questions regarding the failure to discover any weapons in the vehicle, Strolla asked Kipple what weapons were in the vehicle before Kipple was on the scene. Of course, he responded that he would have no way to know whether weapons were present or not, before he was on the scene.
Strolla also noted that nobody had asked Kipple to check for weapons in nearby bushes, or in the adjacent plaza, under cards, in nearby dumpsters, and Kipple agree that nobody had, and that he hadn’t.
Detective William Whittlesey, Crime Scene Investigator
Detective Whittlesey works with, and is immediately subordinate to, Detective Kipple. He was mostly involved with taking photos of the red SUV once it had been relocated to the crime scene unit’s warehouse.
Really not much new here was developed on direct by Corey, except Whittlesey discovered a projectile where Davis had been sitting between the rear seat and the door.
On cross, Strolla again hit the line that Whittlesey could not have known what weapons might have been in the vehicle before he had access to the vehicle. He also touched on the child door lock issue. Strolla noted that the homicide detectives Musser and Oliver had come by to look at the locks, and asked Whittlesey about this. When Whittlesey said he did not really observe them closely, Strolla got sarcastic about how “you’re responsible for this evidence, and you didn’t watch them clsoely?” Other than that, not much to report on the cross of Whittlesey.
Deputy Carmine Siniscal, Tasked With Executing Arrest Warrant on Dunn
The next witness was a short one, the Deputy tasked with executing the arrest warrant on Michael Dunn. The direct was led by Assistant State Attorney Erin Wolfson.
Dunn lived two-and-a-half hours from Jacksonville, so the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office sent the warrant ahead and had a local deputy–Siniscal and two colleagues–make the arrest. Because the warrant was for a homicide, the officers were equipped weith AR-15 assault weapons.
The Deputy described arriving at Dunn’s address, where he and his two fellow Deputy’s took up surrounding positions. They then phone Dunn and spoke with him, instructing him to come out without a shirt on and with his hands in the air. Dunn did so, but emerged from a neighbors condo. He was ordered to his knees, cuffed, and arrested without incident.
On cross Strolla merely emphasized Dunn’s compliance, and noted that the Sheriff’s AR’s were there because of standard procedure and not because of any specific threat Dunn had represented to them. Strolla repeatedly tried to expand his cross beyond the scope of direct, but Wolfson shut him down hard.
Philip Miranda, Crime Scene Investigator
Next up was crime scene investigator Philip Miranda. He was sent to Dunn’s home to photograph and gather evidence from Dunn’s Jetta. Corey conducted the direct, and showed that there was no damage anywhere on the exterior of the vehicle.
Phillip found a shell casing on the floor by the driver’s seat.
Through the closed passenger-side he was able to peer into the open glove compartment, and saw a handgun inside, which he photographed through the window.
Retrieved from the glove box, the pistol was holstered in a right-hand inside-the-waistband (IWB) leather holster, with reinforced opening.
Removed form the holster the pistol was identified as a Taurus PT99 in 9mm.
The pistol had a magazine seated with five hollow point rounds. There was no round in the chamber.
The headstamp on all the rounds was identical: Winchester 9mm Luger.
During this part of the testimony, Lucia McBath was seen present in the court room.
At the end of her direct Angela Corey had the pistol removed from it’s display, and she walked it back and forth before the jury.
On cross, Strolla made much of the fact that it would later be found that Miranda had missed some significant evidence, including as second fully-loaded magazine in the glove box, and four casings caught under the windshield wipers of the vehicle. (These would be found later, when the Jetta was relocated to the crime scene warehouse in Jacksonville for further processing.)
Mark Musser, Homicide Detective
Next up was homicide Detective Mark Musser, the lead investigator on the case. Direct cross was led by Assistant State Attorney John Guy.
Really, not much of significance was developed on direct. Musser stepped through the timeline of when he arrived on the scene, his interview of Thompson, Brunson, and Storns back at the police station–particularly their identification of Dunn through separate photo spreads, and the request and receipt of an arrest warrant for Michael Dunn.
Thompson was able to identify Dunn definitely from the photo spread. Brunson and Storn were each able to narrow it down to two of the six photos presented, and in each case one of the two was Dunn.
Asked why none of the interviews with the young men were recorded, Musser responded that it was not their policy to record interviews with witnesses, only with suspects.
There was a moment of drama when Musser was asked to identify Dunn in the court room. In addition to identifying Dunn by location and clothing, Musser also extended his arm to point directly at Dunn.
Micheal Dunn lowered his eyes as he was so identified.
Strolla came at Musser primarily form the perspective of attacking the procedures for having secured the scene and witnesses, and for failing to adequately, in Strolla’s view, search the adjacent plaza where the Durango had stopped or the bushes or dumpsters around the gas station. All, in Strolla’s view, are potential sites where the boys in the Durango could have stashed a weapon.
Strolla asked why the boys’ interviews were not recorded, when a later interview with witness Shaun Atkins was interviewed with Assistant State Attorney Erin Wolfson present. Musser replied that if the State Attorney wants to interview a witness, that’s their option–different office, different policies.
Detective Karen Smith, Evidence Technician
At the time of the investigation Karen Smith was an evidence technician with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Today she works at a university in Kentucky within a forensics training program, although her responsibilities seem to be mostly administrative.
It was Smith who processed Dunn’s Jetta when it was relocated to the crime scene unit’s warehouse in Jacksonville, and who found the loaded magazine and shell casings missed earlier by Miranda.
Nothing much developed on Corey’s direct,of Smith nor on Strolla’s cross.
Rhonda Rouer, Michael Dunn’s Fiance
Next up was Michael Dunn’s fiancé (self-described as such), with the direct led by ASA Erin Wolfson.
I’m not sure I’ve ever quite seen as nervous a witness. In an unusual move, the Judge brought her into the court room shortly before her testimony to try to calm her down, familiarize her with the court room, and explain to her what to expect. She she was sworn in, she first raised her left hand, and when her right hand was raised it was shaking visibly. Through the entirety of her testimony Rouer was all but openly weeping on the stand, and Michael Dunn was observed wiping his eyes.
Rouer described the events of the day, and the following day until Dunn’s arrest in the morning. Preparing for the wedding of Dunn’s son she had a glass of wine, but said that Dunn did not. At the wedding, she drank some more, and said Dunn may have had three or four modestly sized rum-and-cokes. She indicated she had no concerns that he was inebriated or unsafe to drive. Asked whether Dunn had also drank champagne at the toast, she indicated that was doubtful and he didn’t like champagne.
She described that they left the wedding early, even before the cake was cut, because they had left their 7-month-old puppy, Charlie, crated back at the hotel. They stopped at the Gates gas station so she could get some wine and chips. As they pulled in next to the Durango blasting rap music, Michael Dunn told her, “I hate that thug music.” She replied that she knew, and exited the vehicle.
Inside the store she got her wine and chips, and had just paid for them at the counter when the sound of gunshots sounded. At first she didn’t know what it was, but then the clerk told her there was some guy shooting out of a car in the parking lot. She turned and saw Dunn leaning out of his car door, facing towards the rear of his car. She did not see a gun in hands.
She stepped to the open door of the store and Dunn urged her to get into the car. As she did so she saw him replacing his pistol in the glove box–the location, she knew, where he habitually kept the gun. She characterized his departure from the gas station as quick, and at Wolfson’s question indicated the she didn’t believe she’d had time to buckle her seatbelt before they were leaving.
At no time was she aware of any argument between Dunn and the red Durango.
Wolfson asked if she’d called 911, and she said no. Wolfson asked if she’d seen any police in the area, and she responded that there was a police car with lights flashing across the street, apparently having just pulled someone over.
They went back to the hotel. At that point while Dunn walked their puppy, Rouer sat at a seat by the hotel elevators, sure that the police would be arriving shortly to arrest them. When the police did not arrive she went back to her room. There, she says, she made herself a drink and led Dunn to order pizza because she was in terrible shock, her stomach was upset, and she thought some food might help her settle down.
The next morning she awoke, turned on the television, and saw a news report of the shooting, and of Jordan Davis’ death.
She also said that it was her insistence that they head home. She said in court this was because she assumed they were both going to be arrested, and she first wanted to get their puppy situated. When asked by Wolfson if she had attempted during that two-and-a-half hour drive home to call 911, she said she had not.
When the arrived home she received a phone call from the Jacksonville area, and handed the phone to Dunn thinking it was a call from his son. Dunn took the call, then went to visit with a neighbor. A short while later Rouer also went over to the neighbor’s house. While there, Dunn received a second call on the cell phone. When he hung up the phone, he removed his shirt, walked outside, and was arrested by Deputy Siniscal.
On cross, Strolla asked if she had seen act in an angry manner, banging on the steering wheel, shouting at the boys, attempting to get out of his vehicle to get at them. She had not. He also noted that there had been no sign of any difficulty with Dunn at the wedding, despite the fact that his ex-wife was there. There had been none, Rouer said.
As would be expected, he used his cross as much as possible to evince sympathy from the jury. He repeatedly emphasize the stress she was under, how it must have been even greater than her very apparent stress in the court room.
Investigator Meecham, Medical Examiner’s Office
The last and very brief witness was from the Medical Examiner’s Office. She really had nothing to say, other than that she was the custodian of the personal effects of Jordan Davis that arrived at the ME’s office with his body. These personal effects were then admitted into evidence, including a wallet, key ring, phone, bracelet, watch, some small currency, and a folding knife.
Neither direct, by Corey, nor cross developed anything of note.
After she was dismissed, however, Corey–with the consent of Strolla–showed the jury the folding knife that Davis had carried in his pocket that night. It was labelled “Cuttin’ Horse” and carried the Smith & Wesson logo.
And that ended the day. There is no court tomorrow, but we’ll be back with out live coverage on Monday at 9AM.
See you all there!
Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog, Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle), Barnes & Noble (paperback and Nook), and elsewhere.