A panel of appeals court judges has rejected former Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn’s bid to have murder charges dismissed.
The three-judge panel from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal denied a request from Dunn’s lawyers to halt his prosecution under a “stand your ground” claim. Dunn, 49, faces a charge of second-degree murder in the 2018 fatal shooting of a man inside the Lakeland store where Dunn worked as a manager.
The panel, consisting of Judges Nelly Khouzam, Anthony K. Black and J. Andrew Atkinson, denied the appeal without comment, as is common when a decision concurs with that made by a trial judge.
Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen, who presided over an immunity hearing, ruled in March that Dunn’s fatal shooting of Christobal Lopez was not justified under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
Dunn’s lawyers, James R. “Rusty” Franklin of Bartow and Mark O’Mara of Orlando, filed a 40-page motion for dismissal in April. They argued that Dunn had a legitimate fear of harm from Lopez, who was holding a hatchet inside the Vets Army Navy Surplus store on Oct. 3, 2018, as he headed for the exit.
Dunn, who saw Lopez take the hatchet from a sales display and conceal it in his pants, seized a pistol and left his office, eventually confronting Lopez near the shop’s door.
Dunn fired two shots into Lopez’s chest. Lopez, 50, fell to the group just outside the door and soon died.
The decision of the appeals court means Dunn’s case will now proceed to trial. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Aug. 16 in Bartow.
Part of the episode was captured on surveillance video in the store. Jacobsen relied heavily on that video evidence in denying Dunn’s claim that he should not be prosecuted because he shot Lopez in self-defense.
Jacobsen ruled that Lopez didn’t present a threat in the final moments of the encounter, as he attempted to push open the door and leave the shop. Dunn grabbed Lopez by the shirt near the door before shooting him.
In making their appeal, Dunn’s lawyers argued that Jacobsen erred in focusing too much on the final seconds of Dunn’s fatal encounter with an alleged shoplifter. The lawyers wrote that Jacobsen committed a “reversible error” in ruling that Dunn’s use of force was not justified to prevent death or great bodily harm.
The petition says Jacobsen also erred in failing to address whether Dunn’s actions were a justified response to the imminent commission of a forcible felony.
“I respect the court’s decision, although I didn’t agree with their interpretation of the case law applying to the facts,” O’Mara said. “We certainly respect the decision and will abide by it.”
Dunn resigned from the Lakeland City Commission after being charged. He has been free on bond as the case has proceeded.
Gary White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7518. Follow on Twitter @garywhite13.