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A Most American Way to Die

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But aside from an arrest for DUI and another bust for flying into restricted airspace over Kennedy Space Center, there isn't a lot of paper on Dunn. A Florida native, he lived for a time in California, where he designed a software system for retail stores, later returning to his home state on a downwardly mobile vector. Twice divorced, he was renting a cramped condo in Satellite Beach with Rouer and working for his parents at their data firm in a strip mall in Vero Beach. Three weeks before the shooting, in fact, he sold his precious plane, and owned nothing of value besides the Jetta from which he fired 10 shots on Black Friday. His parents are paying his legal fees; Dunn is apparently flat broke.

What little we know of him, though, seems to be more than his grown son did. The two hadn't seen each other in at least five years, according to Chris Dunn's statement to police, nor engaged in much contact since the young man's boyhood, when Dunn and his mother were divorced. Dunn's appearance at Chris' wedding was meant to be an opening, a step toward re-entry into Chris' life. To that end, he'd brought his girlfriend and brand-new puppy and was spending the weekend at a local hotel so that he and Chris, 23, could reconnect. Of course, Dunn had also brought his pistol, a Taurus PT 9mm with one in the chamber and at least a dozen in the clip, another loaded clip in the glove compartment, plus a silencer and a pair of nunchucks. Why anyone would need those at a wedding reception was a matter left untouched at the bail hearing. Strolla had been hired to clean up the mess made by Dunn's first lawyer, Lemonidis, who called the victims "gang members." "She slandered those kids, and we're likely going to sue her for it," says Phillips. "She gave the gun nuts' stump speech at the initial appearance – black-kids-bad, white-men-good – but it wasn't a rant on MySpace, it was live."

Assuming Strolla takes Dunn's case to trial, it may cost every dime his parents have. The state has a dozen witnesses to counter Dunn's claim that he feared for his life before he fired. It bears noting, by the way, that he had to yank the trigger of his pistol for each and every shot, including the seven he aimed at a retreating car. Had any of those hit the gas pumps over the boys' shoulders, Dunn wouldn't be facing four bids of life in prison. (The state, in its wisdom, has declined to seek the death penalty.) He'd have burned alive in a giant fireball, along with countless innocent holiday shoppers.

But because this is Florida, land of gun-law loopholes, Dunn will get two shots to win his freedom. Sometime this year, he will appear at a pretrial hearing in Jacksonville to determine the merits of his Stand Your Ground claim. He will do so not before a jury of his peers but a circuit judge whose ruling of merit will be final. To restate: An elected official from the reddest part of Florida will decide, single-handedly, if Dunn had any basis for feeling threatened by four black teens. "I don't have to prove the threat, just that Mike Dunn believed it," says Strolla from his office in West Palm Beach. (Neither Dunn nor his children or former wives returned phone calls for this story.) "This is a family man who never had a violent incident in his life, who acted because of words said by Jordan Davis. He screamed, 'Fuck you, motherfucker, I'm gonna kill you,' and was trying to open his door to get out. So absolutely, this is a Stand Your Ground case, based on the law in Florida."

Except that Jordan couldn't have gotten out. According to Tevin, although there were several other spaces available, Dunn had parked his Jetta so close to the Durango that the doors couldn't open. And, according to Phillips, there was nothing in that car – no bat or tire iron – that could possibly be mistaken for a gun. All Jordan Davis, an impeccably raised Christian boy with no history of violence himself, could wield against Dunn were words. But in a state that has issued more than a million carry permits, words will now suffice to get you shot dead – and give your shooter a fighting chance to beat the rap.

The horror of shootings is that they ramify forever and form a sort of head wall around the victims. They're trapped inside a day with no before or after, just a fixed recurrence of a monstrous fact that can't be whittled down to human scale. The parents, the siblings, the friends of the dead: They'll never know a time when that hurt doesn't shade them, lurking behind the scrim of scar tissue.

But what happens when the shooter tried to kill you, too, and made every effort to take your life along with the deceased's? The three boys who managed not to die that day are in a class of collateral damage all their own – haunted, yes, by guilt and grief, but also by real-world terror. What if Dunn gets out and comes after me, or if one of these angry white men with guns sees my picture in the paper and gets ideas?

Tevin, who had three shots fired at him at close range, isn't staying in Florida to find out. He and his family are leaving in June, moving in an attempt to put some breathing space between him and his friend's death. "Can't get my work done, laying awake all night, never coming out of my room," he says. "It plays in my head a lot."

"I wake up still in the situation," says Tommie, whose hands shake as he talks. "Anywhere I go, I'm nervous, feeling like someone's gonna do something to me."

And then there's Leland, now a ghost of the kid who was Jordan's best friend in Jacksonville. The day he turned 18, "he went over to Jordan's house and just sat on his bed and cried," says Tanya Booth-Brunson, his mother. "They were supposed to have a huge party together. Now, he doesn't even hardly leave the house. The light's gone out of his eyes."

As for Jordan's parents, they had a choice to make. They could have joined the cable circus of grief-collectors, that smarmy crew of funeral crashers who turn a buck from racist killings. "We got the calls from their producers: 'Oh, come on our show. We'll tell your son's story to the nation,'" says Davis. "But that's not how we were raised, and it's not how we raised Jordan. This is about guns, plain and simple."

Accordingly, they made a couple of talk-show stops, telling Soledad O'Brien and Lawrence O'Donnell that the law was to blame, not race hatred. "I'd heard of Stand Your Ground but didn't know it meant this – that you could shoot someone and hide behind a shield," says Davis. Adds Phillips, their lawyer, "They actually teach that to people when they take the carry-permit class. It's your get-out-of-jail-free card. Use it."

And so, tentatively at first but gaining confidence as they went, Davis and McBath began a quest to get Stand Your Ground repealed. They held rallies at Jacksonville Landing, made trips to Washington to lobby members of Congress, and built a strong following at churches and schools, urging the congregants to call their local reps. "It can't just be the NRA making noise," says McBath. "There's way more of us than there are of them. We've got to lift our voices up too."

On a warm, gusty day in late February, they appeared at an event at the Shiloh Baptist Church in downtown Jacksonville. Twenty-five busloads of school kids were there for a special symposium on black history. A tap dancer performed a seminal blues from the pre-Civil War South. A playwright acted out her stirring piece about a slave girl taken from her parents. Then they brought the show's feature act out: a young, homegrown rapper called J City who tore the roof of with his "Jordan Davis Tribute," a plaintive, angry anthem he'd written for Jordan and Trayvon Martin. Hundreds of kids stood, chant-singing the hook – I done lost some people don't deserve to be gone… . . . deserve to be gone . . .… deserve to be gone – as McBath, in the front row, brushed back tears. J City saw her and waved her onstage; up she went to join him. They rocked there arm in arm, a mother and a kid very much like her own, alive for the grace of a fickle God.

This story is from the April 15th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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