Inside the #DunnTrial jury room

One of the jurors in the controversial Michael Dunn trial explains why they couldn’t agree on the murder charge:

This juror says she believed Dunn was guilty of murder, and most of her fellow panelists believed a conviction for murder or manslaughter was justified.  But ultimately, three jurors bought the self-defence claim:

Juror #4 – who asked to be identified simply as “Valerie” – said two and then three jurors ultimately believed Michael Dunn was justified in the 2012 shooting death of Jordan Davis. Valerie, who wanted a conviction, says the group knew within the first hour that they would be unable to reach a unanimous decision.

The first thing jurors did when handed the case was turn to page 25 in the jury instructions, she said. The question: do you believe that Michael Dunn was justified or unjustified in the murder of Jordan Davis?”

“It said if he believed that he had an eminent [sic] threat to himself or his fiancee, so that was a thing that those two folks believed – he was frightened and there was no other option for him in regards to Mr. Davis,” Valerie said. “The rest of us were 100 percent sure, you didn’t have to react [with gunfire], you could have had another option.

“We looked at a lot of evidence – and myself, it was where the gunshots were, the timing. Could he have had other options? To me, [the shooting] was unnecessary.”

Dunn, 47, never denied that he shot and killed 17-year-old Davis in a gas station parking lot after they got into an argument over loud music. But he pleaded self-defense from the witness stand. Jurors found the middle-aged software developer guilty on four of five charges for shooting at Davis’ friends, who were also in the car, as well as firing a gun into a car in the 2012 incident. But the mistrial on the first-degree murder charge for shooting Davis has sparked outrage.

According to Valerie, the jurors who believed Dunn was guilty were split between first-degree, second-degree and manslaughter – but because they were unable to unanimously overcome the issue of self-defense, the jury was deadlocked. The jurors yelled and screamed at each other at one point, but all were respectful of each other’s position.

Much of the heated commentary about this case appears to presume Dunn was acquitted on the murder charge, for which he will be re-tried.  I will concede, however, that considering the holes in his defence (largely exposed by his own girlfriend) it’s disturbing to find out that three jurors bought it.

As for the question of why Dunn was convicted of attempted murder, “Valerie” – as expected – confirms that the jurors unanimously drew a distinction between the first set of shots fired, and those he fired as the vehicle carrying Davis pulled away.  When the other parties were leaving, there was no longer any plausible argument for self-defence.

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Justice in Venezuela

Anti-government protests and counter-protests in Venezuela – which have resulted in the arrest of the country’s most prominent opposition leader, for “formenting unrest”  - resulted in the deaths of three protesters last week. Not surprisingly, each side blamed the other for inciting the violence:

Amid swirling rumors of an impending crackdown on dissent, Venezuela’s two political camps traded blame for violent clashes Wednesday that began when a group of pro-Maduro vigilantes roared up on motorcycles and fired guns at a small crowd of demonstrators who had been sparring with police.

[...]

Lopez’s allies blamed the blamed the violence on the government. They charged that security forces acting on the president’s orders stood by while pro-government militia members attacked the small group of student protesters, who lingered downtown after thousands of other Maduro opponents went home after a demonstration.

The pro-government demonstrator killed has been identified as Juan “Juancho” Montoyo – not to be confused with Juan Montoya – who led a Chavista mob that “patrols” the streets of the January 23 neighborhood in Caracas.  In turns out he was interviewed by Al-Jazeera (that notoriously radical right-wing, pro-American TV network) last year, and he had some interesting things to say about peaceful resolution of political disputes:

As insecurity continues to plague Venezuela, collectives such as Juancho’s Tupamaros are set to play an increasingly important role in defending the “Bolivarian Revolution” inspired by former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

“Violence is a tool,” Juancho, a leading figure in the Marxist group, told Al Jazeera in an April interview following a Tupamaro meeting in Caracas. “It’s going to be seen as something good or bad depending on your interests.”

With fierce, yet strangely kind eyes, Juancho discusses acts of harsh political violence with a calm, almost soothing matter-of-fact demeanour.

“If the opposition had won the last election by a small margin, we wouldn’t accept that,” he said of the campaign led by Henrique Capriles against now-President Nicolas Maduro. “If the opposition wanted to set up an office here in January 23, that would be impossible,” he said, as members of his group would use force to stop them.

[...]

The goal of the Tupamaros is no longer a full blown insurgency in the short-term, Juancho said, but a strategic alliance with the government. They represent Maduro’s left flank, as the government looks to keep its core support base, while trying to find new allies - even reaching out to its sworn enemy, Uncle Sam, during a recent Organisation of American States summit.

Increasingly tight elections show that crime, corruption and inflation are alienating the government’s initial middle class supporters and even some of the poor.

To continue winning elections, most observers believe Venezuela’s government needs new foreign investment and tighter monetary policy to combat inflation.

Those policy goals clash with the Tupamaros’ ideological agenda, but in the near term the government is likely to continue relying on them, former security officials said, as it needs the grassroots political muscle.

As men with pistols bulging from beneath their jeans watch Juancho talk, he gives a clear message about deepening the Bolivarian revolution with further and faster nationalisations of private property.

He saves particular scorn for the “red bureaucrats” - officials close to the Socialist Party - who have become wealthy from high oil prices and government largesse during the Chavez years.

“I hope they are enjoying drinking their Scotch now,” he said with a wry smile. “As we get closer to a true revolution, their time will come.”

Stephen Harper can’t blow his nose without being accused of turning Canada into a fascist dictatorship.  And yet, the same people who scream the most about the Canadian government are downright enthusiastic about what’s happening in Venezuela.

Interesting, that.

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Explaining the Dunn non-verdict

One day in November 2012, a white man named Michael David Dunn got into an argument with four black teenagers over the loud music they were playing.  Dunn says one of the youths threatened him with a gun, and in response he grabbed his own weapon and fired in self-defence – killing one of the boys.  He then continued to fire at their vehicle as they drove away.  Police later found no weapon in the boys’ possession.

Dunn was charged with one count of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder.  Last night, after a lengthy period of deliberation, a jury found him guilty of attempted murder but could not reach a verdict on the murder charge, resulting in a mistrial.

Jurors deadlocked on whether Michael David Dunn, 47, murdered 17-year-old Jordan Davis or shot him in self-defense. Judge Russell Healey declared a mistrial on the murder charge.

Jurors did convict Dunn of the second-degree attempted murders of Tevin Thompson, Leland Brunson and Tommie Stornes, and also convicted him of a fourth count of firing bullets into the vehicle all four teenagers were in.

[...]

Dunn was arrested in November 2012 the day after he fired 10 shots into the vehicle Davis was in with three friends. Davis died at the scene while the other three teenagers were not hurt.

According to police and court documents, Davis and Dunn argued over the loud music in the boys’ Dodge Durango. Dunn had pulled his Volkswagen Jetta into a Gate gas station next to the Durango while his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, went into the convenience store to purchase a bottle of wine and some chips.

Dunn asked the teenagers to turn down their thumping rap music. Thompson, who was in the front seat of the Durango, complied.

But Davis cursed and told Thompson to turn the music back up.

An argument ensued, and Dunn testified Davis threatened to kill him and had a shotgun. He said Davis was getting out of the car to kill him when he defended himself with his own gun from his glove compartment.

The other teens in the SUV and several witnesses in the parking lot said Davis never got out and didn’t have a gun. They said Davis cursed at Dunn but never threatened him.

One witness in the parking lot said Dunn screamed, “You can’t talk to me like that” before pulling out his gun and firing it at the Durango. Dunn testified he said, “You’re not going to kill me.”

After Dunn opened fire, Tommie Stornes backed the Durango up and fled into a connected plaza parking lot to get away. Dunn continued to fire, hitting the back of the Durango with three shots.

After about three minutes and realizing Davis had been shot, the teenagers returned to the Gate and 911 was called.

Attorneys for Dunn argued that the weapon Dunn said he saw could have been disposed of by the friends while in the adjacent parking lot. Police did not search the plaza parking lot that night. Prosecutors said police didn’t know to search it because Dunn fled the scene and didn’t tell his story to police until the next day when he was arrested.

Prosecutors have already announced that Dunn will be re-tried for murder, and he will almost certainly spend the rest of his life in prison on the lesser charges.  But it seems to defy logic: how could he be convicted for the attempted murder of the boys he missed, but not for the murder of the one he killed?

Hopefully, we’ll soon find out how the jury voted and why they deadlocked.  Because of questions put to the judge by the jury, it’s assumed at least one juror accepted the self-defence claim for the murder – but it’s possible that they disagreed over the distinction between manslaughter and murder (the former requires intent to harm, the latter intent to kill) or between first-degree and second-degree murder (the former requires premeditation, the latter does not).

More importantly, I understand that the distinction between the charges arises from the first volley of shots fired by Mr. Dunn, when the SUV was parked, and those he fired after the vehicle drove away.

In order to claim self-defence, Dunn had to argue that he feared for his life, and that he felt his actions were necessary to defend himself.  Although no weapon was found in the boys’ possession (or at the scene, which was not searched until several days later) it’s theoretically possible that Dunn legitimately believed Jordan Davis did have one, and that he was about to shoot.

By contrast, when the boys drove away, Dunn kept firing.  By that point, the claim of self-defence was no longer feasible – they were leaving the scene and could not be considered a threat.  Hence, his conviction on the other charges.

We still don’t know how the jury (which consisted of eight white people, two African-Americans, one Hispanic and one Asian) broke down, either.  If the whole jury accepted the self-defence claim, Dunn would have been acquitted.  But if just one juror accepted self-defence to this charge and would not be moved, that’s all you need for a hung jury.

There was, of course, a racial aspect to the Dunn trial – just like the George Zimmerman trial from 2013, a white Florida man was on trial for shooting an unarmed black teenager.  Even the prosecutor, Angela Corey, was the same.  I’m under no illusions about the gross racial disparities in the American and Floridian justice systems – see the case of Marissa Alexander, who was sentenced to twenty years in prison for firing a warning shot at her estranged husband, after a jury deliberated for only 12 minutes.  (The conviction was later overturned on appeal, and Alexander is free on bail pending her new trial in March.)

But from a legal point of view, it’s possible to make a distinction between the shots that killed Jordan Davis and those that didn’t kill his friends, and Dunn’s mindset at the time each was fired. Hopefully, his retrial for murder will leave no questions unanswered.

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Coincidence?

1989:

2014: “Sinkhole at National Corvette Museum Swallows Eight Historic Vettes”

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What’s wrong with anti-bullying laws? A lot, actually

While politicians across Canada fall over themselves to hastily pass “anti-bullying” legislation, one Alberta MLA is bucking the trend:

If a Calgary Conservative MLA has her way, Alberta will not be enacting any more laws to combat bullying even though she knows many desperate parents want exactly that.

Sandra Jansen, an associate minister tasked with investigating what the provincial government should do to combat bullying in schools, public places and cyberspace believes more legislation won’t deter bullies or help their victims.

She prefers an approach that treats bullying as a “mental health issue” for both the bully and the victim. Education programs, intervention and treatment are far more effective than simply punishing offenders, Jansen recently told a Calgary audience.

Alberta’s Education Act already has some of the toughest anti-bullying provisions in the country and was among the first to address bullying in schools. But Jansen doesn’t want to go any further with anti-bullying laws such as those recently adopted in Nova Scotia and by municipalities in Alberta and across the country.

She recalled a case in a Calgary school that involved a grade school student who was extremely disruptive and menacing. When the school’s police resource officer and social workers began investigating they discovered a home with a younger child who exhibited the same behaviour and a mother who could barely get out of bed because of severe depression.

And there was no food in the house.

The mother received help for her depression and the children, who remained at home, were provided with counselling and other social supports.

“Those boys are now doing really well in school and playing hockey,” Jansen said. “Punishment would not have solved anything.”

Read it all.  Nova Scotia’s anti-bullying laws, the toughest in the country, have already been deployed against a teenager accused of “cyberbullying” a member of the legislature.

Via Chris Selley on Twitter.

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Escape from East Germany

Via Reddit, an extraordinary video taken not long before the Berlin Wall came down (and more evidence, as if any were needed, that the Wall was meant to keep people in, not out).

A Redditor responds: “I grew up in Slovakia, just on the border with Austria (I can see Austria from my window). At that time it was the Iron Curtain, the most protected border in the country, with all-day armed patrols. Just getting close to the border could get you in serious troubles. Getting a permit to visit Austria was insanely hard…Some 30 years later I’m able to do my day-to-day shoping in Austria, crossing the border without any kind check, without any kind of passport, using the same currency….Blows my mind every time.”

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Blu-Ray review: The Jungle Book – Diamond Edition

[Originally posted to Blogcritics.org]

Released ten months after his death, The Jungle Book was the last feature-length animated film produced under the tutelage of Walt Disney. I suspect he was more than satisfied with the result. Finally available on Blu-ray February 11The Jungle Book doesn’t quite rank with Disney’s greatest masterpieces, but it’s still tremendously entertaining.

jungle book

Loosely based on Rudyard Kipling’s stories, The Jungle Book begins with Bagheera the panther finding a little “man-cub,” Mowgli, in the wreckage of a boating accident. He leaves the little guy with a family of wolves, who raise him as one of their own for ten years. By then, Mowgli feels at home amongst his animal friends, but trouble is brewing: the fierce tiger Shere Khan is back in the neighborhood, and the panthers decide that Bagheera must accompany his friend back to the “man-village.”

Mowgli has no interest in returning “where he belongs,” and resists at every turn, taking up with bumbling Baloo the Bear and King Louie of the apes. Bagheera tries to keep him on the path to his fellow humans, while fending off the devious python Kaa, who thinks Mowgli would make a tasty brunch.

Do I even have to tell you that Shere Khan eventually shows up, and is beaten – with the help of four decidedly Beatlesque vultures – in the nick of time? And that Mowgli finally warms to the idea of joining the man-village when he spies a lovely girl-cub gathering water?

At only 78 minutes in length, The Jungle Book’s plot is pretty thin, and the characters aren’t as well developed as those in other Disney features. Shere Khan, in particular, has it out for humans because…well, he just does, okay? The tiger was the obvious predecessor to Scar in The Lion King– Jeremy Irons undoubtedly found inspiration from George Sanders’ sinister vocal performance – but the latter is a much more fully fleshed out character.

That’s the kind of thing that separates a really, really good Disney film, like The Jungle Book, from one of the best, like The Lion King. Still, the movie looks absolutely breathtaking. The lush Indian jungle was rendered completely by hand, giving The Jungle Book a warmth rarely seen in today’s computer-aided (or fully CGI) animated features.

The musical numbers are the best thing about The Jungle Book. The Oscar-nominated “Bare Necessities” is a classic, but my favorite was “I Wanna Be Like You,” sung by the legendary Louis Prima as King Louie. The cleverly animated “Trust in Me” sequence, in which the devious Kaa lulls Mowgli into a trance, is also a standout. The python stretching and contorting himself to keep Mowgli sleepwalking brings to mind the famed Looney Tunes short “Homeless Hare,” in which a dazed Bugs Bunny navigates a skyscraper under construction.

This “Diamond Edition” release includes the Blu-ray of the movie, the DVD version, and a digital download. The Blu-ray looks sensational; in many scenes, you can even make out the strokes of the animators’ pens, but the DTS-HD High Res Audio is mixed in a way that makes the characters’ dialogue difficult to hear in some scenes. Disney didn’t skimp on the special features, though: making-of documentaries, deleted scenes, a storyboarded alternate ending, audio commentary from animators who were inspired to get into the business because of this film, subtitled “karaoke” versions of the songs, and a featurette plugging Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in Florida.

The Jungle Book may not quite make it into the top tier of Disney’s animated canon, but even a “second-tier” Disney release still makes for essential viewing.

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