Who remembers the shooting of 17-year-old Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida nine months after Trayvon Martin’s death in Sanford, Florida? The case received less media play than that of Trayvon Martin but both focused attention on white gun carriers profiling African-Americans as “bad guys” and using Florida’s extreme laws to defend themselves. George Zimmerman famously said he felt scared for his life even though he was the stalker and Trayvon Martin was unarmed. Like most bullies, Zimmerman thought he was the victim.
Zimmerman did not invoke Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in his defense but George Dunn, a 47-year-old software developer charged with murdering Jordan Davis, did and a new Sundance documentary covers his trial.
“3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets” from Participant Media, written and directed by Marc Silver, had its Chicago premiere at the Gene Siskel Film Center to a sold out audience earlier this month. Lucia McBath, Jordan Davis’ mother, spoke after the film which will be shown on HBO this fall.
Many remember the highlights of the case which was dubbed the “loud music” or “thug music” trial by the media. Angry about loud music in a car next to him at a gas station (while his girlfriend was buying something inside) George Dunn got in an altercation with the four youths in the car and shot and killed Jordan Davis.
Much of the movie’s tension centers on trial proceedings to determine if Dunn was really threatened or felt threatened before he shot 10 bullets into the car. Dunn’s lawyer, Cory Strolla, valiantly tries to prove in the film that Dunn was scared for his life before he shot, either seeing the barrel of a gun or a lead pipe, both of which are weapons that could do “harm” he notes. Dunn’s defense attorney puts law enforcement officers on the stand and tries to prove that they did a poor job of examining the crime scene; that a weapon could indeed have been displayed, as Dunn claims, and then discarded, perhaps in a dumpster. But Dunn’s girlfriend, Rhonda Rouer, denies on the stand that Dunn ever mentioned a gun or other weapon immediately after the shooting, later that evening or even the next day.
Moved and relieved by Rouer’s testimony, which proved a turning point in the trial leading to Dunn’s conviction, Lucia McBath says in the movie she does not know if Rouer has children of her own but felt that her compassion had inspired her to tell the truth about the shooting.
“3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets” includes real time audio and video from the shooting as Rouer pays in the gas station while shots ring out and bystanders yell someone’s “shooting” and they better call “911.” The film intercuts between dramatic trial footage, close up interviews with Jordan’s friends and the effect of the shooting and trial on McBath and Jordan’s father Ron Davis and even the community.
Despite its subject, there are some moments of laughter in “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets” like when Jordan’s friends say he dressed sharp but was miserable at basketball and when they are asked on the witness stand why they bought gum at the gas station where the shooting occurred. (They wanted to meet girls and make sure their breath wasn’t bad, they say.)
Still, the broken lives from the shooting are hard to ignore–from friends and family of Jordan to those close to Michael Dunn. Upon sentencing Dunn to life in prison (after a second trial which found him guilty of murder) Circuit Court Judge Russell Healey admonishes Dunn that there would have been “nothing wrong” with retreating from the scene instead of shooting. Stand Your Ground laws remove the “duty to retreat.”
The first “shoot first,” Stand Your Ground law was signed in Florida by then governor Jeb Bush in 2005 and self-defense claims quickly tripled. Before enactment, Miami police chief John F. Timoney said the law was dangerous and could be used against “trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard” or “some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house.” In addition to the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis cases, over zealous gun owners have killed a woman who knocked on a door near Detroit after a car accident, an Alzheimer’s patient who knocked on a door in Georgia and a German exchange student who had entered the garage of homeowners in Montana.