Media fumes over audio-only access to jury voir dire
Jury selection continues for the second day in the murder trial of Michael Dunn, as the media has grounds for new cries of suppression following Judge Healey’s decision to exclude them from the courtroom, as reported by WJCT news in Florida. Also in court yesterday, Michael Dunn formally pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Dunn, a 47-year-old white man, is charged with 1st degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. State prosecutors and Davis supporters claim that Dunn killed Davis, and shot his three companions, because the young men were playing their music too loud. Dunn claims he was verbally threatened, then spotted what appeared to be a weapon, prompting him to present his licensed sidearm and fire reasonable self-defense.
Ridiculously, after the shooting Dunn left the scene, returned home, and ordered pizza. Police found him at home after identifying his vehicle, and hence his identity, from surveillance video and witness statements at the scene of the shooting.
Judge Healey has set a goal of 16 jurors, consisting of 12 primary jurors and 4 alternates. As some may recall from the Zimmerman 2nd degree murder trial, Florida requires only 6 jurors for most felony criminal trials, but 1st degree murder is the exception, requiring the more traditional 12 jurors.
Between yesterday and today twin pools of 100 jurors each have been winnowed down to 62–those eliminated consisted primarily of people claiming extended sequestration would be a hardship or who claimed to have already formed an opinion on the case, according to reporting by WOKV. These 62 will now be subject to more rigorous voir dire, in which the prosecution and defense will each have a limited number of strikes through which they can eliminate a particular prospective juror without giving cause, as well as argue why a specific juror should be dismissed for some particular cause.
Judge Healey anticipates that the jury selection process will continue through Wednesday, and the trial could begin as soon as Wednesday afternoon or Thursday. Once the trial proper begins, it is anticipated that both audio and video coverage will be available through selected local media.
Those who followed along with us on the Zimmerman trial will soon be presented with a familiar visage: Assistant State Attorney John Guy is “in the house”, he of the infamously and repetitively shouted “f*cking punks!” from last year’s most notable self-defense trial. Guy will be the leading prosecutor on this case.
The parties worked through an initial pool of 100 prospective jurors yesterday, and plan to do so again today. A substantial number of prospective jurors are expected to be dismissed because of the hardship that sequestration would impose upon them. Yesterday Judge Healey ruled that the empanelled jury would be sequestered for the duration of the trial.
The media is once again objecting to Healey’s treatment of them, this time for excluding them and their cameras from the court room during jury voir dire. The media’s only access to the jury selection process is via an audio feed into a separate room. The media have, consistent with past practice, promptly taken their grievance to the 1st District Court of Appeals.
The “emergency hearing” called for this past Friday by the 1st District Court of Appeals to straighten out the kerfuffle over media access to Dunn’s jailhouse telephone recordings, is expected to take place later this week.
On a positive note, there are indications that this trial may hold more genuine entertainment value than did the Zimmerman trial.
First, today someone in the courthouse thought it would be a good idea to position their toaster adjacent to a heat sensor for the building’s fire detection system. The inevitable hilarity ensued, with the courthouse having to be completely emptied when the alarm system was triggered.
Second, a source of entertainment likely to have more legs than an errant toaster comes to our attention from this report by The Florida Times Union:
By Monday afternoon, three members of the New Black Panther Party’s Jacksonville branch had shown up outside the courthouse, as leader Mikhail Muhammad kept up a microphone-aided broadside that criticized the stand-your-ground law, white people, black cops, State Attorney Angela Corey and the state of Israel. During a water break, he said Jacksonville as well as Dunn is on trial. He vowed to stay at the courthouse throughout the trial, and said New Black Panther members from other cities will soon be joining him.
Mikhail Muhammad appears to be an interesting fellow. In May of 2013 News4Jax reported that he had been arrested for resisting arrest without violence. The charge stemmed from his refusal to allow police to gather up his wife’s property after she told the officers that she wanted to leave him, but that he would not allow her to leave the house and that she was deathly afraid of him.
A police report filed earlier that month noted an incident in which Muhammad’s wife was screaming out an open window to get the attention of people walking down the street, stating that Muhammad was keeping the doors and windows shut at all times.
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.