Cory Strolla, defense attorney for Michael Dunn, gave a 20-minute interview to reporters in the Duval County Courthouse
Shortly before noon Thursday, Cory Strolla, defense attorney for Michael Dunn, gave a 20-minute interview to reporters in the Duval County Courthouse.
Strolla spoke as the jury in the first-degree murder case in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis worked into its second day of deliberations.
Here's a complete transcript.
1. Reporter: Angela Corey has a reputation for overcharging. It happened in the George Zimmerman case in Sanford last year and it is happening in Marissa Alexander, awaiting a new trial on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after firing a gun at her estranged husband and his two children. The reporter asked Strolla if he felt his client has been overcharged?
Strolla: "Yes. Is that the same one where [Assistant State Attorney John] Guy asked my client if he fired a warning shot? I thought that was a bit ironic. That's neither here nor there. In this case I have said from day one that I think it was an overcharge. There was no premeditation. Granted the law does allow no time limit on premeditation. I am hoping the Supreme Court of Florida changes that for things like this. It has to be with malice and ill intent and it wasn't. I think Mr. Dunn's testifying was very straightforward and honest in answering the questions not only from myself but from Mr. Guy. I think he was the most candid of any witness on that stand. Do I think they should have charged him with first degree? No, but again it was a grand jury and you can charge somebody from a grand jury any way you like."
2. Reporter: Did [fiancee] Rhonda Rouer's testimony about the gun at all damage the relationship between her and Michael Dunn?
Strolla: "No. Well I can't say that because he's in custody and she's not and they have limited contact now. Throughout this entire trial he's had a very good relationship on the phone. There's been a couple of jail visits. I can tell you this, the testimony was very [inaudible]. She indicated she was more composed on that witness stand than over a year ago when it happened. And I pointed out, at least … Mr. Guy said I made fun of her which was ridiculous, but you could see had to be escorted off the stand because of her emotional state and I am hoping the jury can see past that. If that was her version of calm and composed, there is no way she is going to recall all the words he said. And again, with eyewitness testimony, it is what you recall. And I asked in my cross, is it possible he did and 'you don't recall?' and she indicated yes. You can't change the facts; it is what it is. But I think the state overplayed that hand. I hope the jury can see past that and see that her emotional state on the stand, if that was calm and collective there is no way someone can reasonably remember what they are saying on that night. Even my client indicated in cross-examination he doesn't remember half of the interrogation with police because it was such a blur because of his mental state."
3. Reporter: Your client seemed well-prepared, maybe even a bit over-rehearsed. How did you sit with him and prepare for the questions he got and when he saw his fiancée?
Strolla: "I don't think I could prepare him to see his fiancée because I didn't pretrial her like the state attorneys did. I can assure you one thing, the State Attorney's Office rehearsed with their witnesses a whole lot more than I did with Mr. Dunn. And I think that was clear to anybody that Mr. Dunn was genuine; he was honest. To say his testimony was rehearsed, you weren't watching the testimony."
4. Reporter: What is Dunn's state of mind. How is he doing?
Strolla: "What is he doing? He's sitting behind the courtroom in a jail cell waiting for the jury. On how is he doing? This is the hard part. This is the hard part for anybody. It's out of our hands. There is nothing we can do. That's what I explained to the jury. Once I sit down I will have a million and one things to say to you. I will be able to rebut what Mr. Guy says but we can't. He's in good spirits. He's holding up. I can tell you from day one his attitude has been that we have the truth, we have the law, he will prevail. Now it's in the jury's hands and I have to respect that."
5. Reporter: What can you tell us about Michael Dunn's background?
Strolla: "I can tell you as you saw from the family, very close-knit. I know there was a lot brought up about Mr. Dunn's son, Christopher Dunn, and there is a lot nobody knows. There are a lot of things that unfortunately with evidence we are not allowed to bring out because of the rules of evidence. I can tell you that his ex-wife and he made a decision because she was in North Florida and he was in South Florida — she got remarried. He was with somebody else. There were no child-support issues. There were no domestic-violence issues. You saw there was no bad blood, so the fact that he hadn't seen Christopher so often was based on a family decision with his ex-wife and himself, who had a great relationship. There were times that he did see him. Unfortunately I think the state tried to exploit that to try to show lack of character. Again I hope the jury can see past that. I am hoping the jury will abide by the instruction that you can't use sympathy or anger to convict someone and I think that honestly that the state relied heavily in their closing argument on both."
6. Reporter: In light of the criticism that the State Attorney's Office faced after getting a conviction in the Zimmerman case, did they invest too many resources here? Or how would you address a case like this when they have so many resources?
Strolla: "That might be a better question to ask Ms. [State Attorney Angela] Corey. I can't really speak to that. But I think and I personally believe that there is a lot invested in this case politically. I am not saying anything for Ms. Corey, she can gladly speak for herself. But my personal belief and I have said so since the beginning, because of the George Zimmerman case a lot more was focused on this case. Had we never heard about George Zimmerman, I don't think you or I would be standing here talking about Mr. Dunn. "
7. Reporter: Jurors have asked to watch all of the surveillance tape. What does that tell you?
Strolla: "It told me they were listening to me, because remember in closings I asked them to do it. And you will see from different angles when Tommy Stornes left that door; how long he was out before the first shot was fired. You will also see when did witness Steven Smith leave and see how long he was out and see if it's possible he could hear Mr. Dunn make alleged statements even though he admitted he wasn't focusing that direction and he was parked on the other side. There will be things that came out that the state strategically played small portions of [the video] and I am glad the jury's going to look at it because they are going to see another side. They will see people inside talking and you can hear them clearly, which means when the police cut it off, it was before all the witnesses were inside that store. I firmly believe that had the police not cut it off and got afterwards, you would have heard what the witnesses were doing, where they were standing and what they were talking about. I think that will show that witnesses were talking about what was going on outside which contributed to what they ended up telling homicide detectives later."
8. Reporter: Do you feel that you had to change your legal strategy coming in?
Strolla: "No ma'am, I think I had to do some damage control because of things put out in the media. But I did not have to change my strategy. From day one talking to the Dunn family and meeting with Michael Dunn, we knew this was a clear-cut case of self-defense. We knew the evidence was there. And finally when I got the discovery from the state and got to my depositions, I could see the police and detectives did not investigate what they should have investigated. And to be honest I think they thought this was just another typical shooting in Jacksonville, Florida. No offense to you guys in Jacksonville. But you have the dubious distinction of the murder capital of Florida and I don't think the resources, like that gentleman said, went into the investigation. And I don't think they ever imagined that it was going to come to this."
9. Reporter: We have seen a lot of the Davis family. What is the state of mind of the Dunn family?
Strolla: "Thank you for asking about that. I can tell you I did talk to his mom and dad. They do want to clear some things up they want to get out. To be honest with you, I even asked them if they just wanted to read a statement and Mr. Dunn's response to me was, 'Cory, if I do that I will hysterically cry.' Their family is heartbroken and that's no disrespect to the Davises. I understand they lost a son in this. Right now, the entire Dunn family is truly hanging with every second, and again the mom and dad can't even talk about it without crying."
10. Reporter: The Dunn family has apparently run out of money, yet Angela Corey has resources. Is this a fair fight when you are there by yourself and Corey has two assistants and an office with a hundred people on this?
Strolla: "There's actually four vs. one. But do I think it's fair? No, they could have used more," he said with a smile.
11. Reporter: Can you define the difference between Florida's Stand Your Ground and self-defense?
Strolla: "It's a legal principal and I see what you are saying. In Florida, Stand Your Ground is when you have a mini-trial in front of just a judge, no jury. It's an immunity hearing. I think that's where the perception is being lost. Everybody keeps saying Stand Your Ground, and if you heard the jury instructions, it says that Mr. Dunn was allowed to stand his ground and meet force with force, and the media goes, 'Oh, the words stand your ground!' It's a different burden. In a pre-trial immunity hearing the judge can determine by preponderance of the evidence that it was self-defense and throw the case out and never go to a jury. We strategically decided not to do it because of the media attention, because of the publicity and because we did not want to give the State Attorney's Office a preview of what our defense and our questioning was going to be. Basically as a defense attorney you got to lay all your cards out on the table before it gets to trial. If the judge denies the hearing, you've got nothing left."
12. Reporter: That law, due to the way it is written, doesn't have a timetable. You could actually bring back an immunity hearing before the jury gets back. Are you going to do that?
Strolla: "At this point no. At this point again, based on the factors prior to this trial we are confident that we have a fantastic jury and I am hoping that we all have a brave jury. They have a very hard decision to make. And I am hoping they come back with the right decision."
13. Reporter: You use the word "brave." Why?
Strolla: "As you saw with Zimmerman, there were death threats to jurors; there was hate mail. One juror ran to do interviews and things like that. It's going to be a tough decision and if somebody says that politics and race aren't going to be played in this, just look outside the front of that courthouse this entire last two weeks. It is unfortunate and I want to be very clear, nobody from my office or Mr. Dunn has brought race into this, period. Matter of fact I filed a pre-trial motion to keep it out because we don't want to taint that jury. We want to keep it clean. Matter of fact I never identified a single witness by either the color of their skin or their gender. We identified name and if you look at the state attorney's questions they continually used 'Was it a black girl, a white girl, a black man?' I am not saying anything against Angela Corey — she can speak for herself — I wanted the record to be very clear that this was not about race. As a matter of fact Mr. Dunn made several phone calls that — they were just used in the media — where he does believe there is a subculture. Mr. Dunn does believe that there are kids and youth out there that listen to what we call this gangster rap or violent lyrics and they see violent things on TV and then try to imitate it because they think that's fun or they think that's cool or they think that's the way you are supposed to act. And it's not black and it's not white and not Hispanic. It's literally a person trying to emulate something they have seen and unfortunately it puts them in a very dangerous position if they do that."
14. An unintelligible followup question is asked.
Strolla: "He's said that since day one, and had he had bond and been able to speak to the media, he would have told you from day one. Matter of fact, he can't tell you how many times he's said that this isn't a black and white issue, it's what he would call a subculture thug issue, and again that doesn't go to race. It goes to how people behave and respond to situations."
15. A reporter asked about the 18 letters Dunn wrote from jail, some released in October to the public and called "shockingly racist" by Davis' parents' attorney, John Phillips.
Strolla: "They [prosecutors] introduced one letter. That had all of his letters. And again they had thousands of hours of phone calls and you didn't hear one. And with the letters. So they piecemealed what they wanted. And again, you have to understand: Michael Dunn, never been in jail, sat in a jail cell and I could tell you this and he would tell you if he was here, he was threatened, he was harassed in jail and it comes to a point where eventually it wore on him and we are all human, and he may have said something he regrets, but it was out of emotion. Again he said many times in letters and phone calls, it's not black and white. He's never been racist; he's never been accused of racism. The guys in the car even testified in cross-examination that that night he never said anything racial, he never said anything of violence or disrespect or even raised his voice. So the media — no offense to you guys — has portrayed this as an argument a white shooting a black kid over loud music. An argument is two people back and forth. And even the guys in the car said it wasn't an argument. And again I want to break that perception. That's not what happened."
16. Reporter: Was a plea ever offered in this case?
Strolla: "Never. Never was it offered and my client would have never accepted a plea offer."
17. Report: You said this case wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the Zimmerman case.
Strolla: "What I think is the way George Zimmerman happened and the media attention was global, and again it's been compared, Mr. Dunn's case has been compared to George Zimmerman's case. As a matter of fact I think they have put their pictures up in the news several times with Mr. Dunn's face and George Zimmerman's face. The facts are extremely different and the problem is with the media attention, and not critiquing you guys, but the global media attention and then this happening on the heels of it and all of a sudden this case is here on the heels of a not guilty for George Zimmerman, I think just escalated that political pressure and things like that that we spoke of."
18. Reporter: Dunn would not have been prosecuted?
Strolla: "I think that if the detectives had done their jobs properly, I don't think this case would have ever come forward."
19. Reporter: In the civil suit Jordan Davis' parents filed, then settled in January against the man charged with shooting and killing their 17-year-old son, why did Dunn settle before the criminal case?
Strolla: "He did not. I am so glad you brought that up. He absolutely did not settle and I know the Davis family put in there that they were shocked that he did. There was never a phone call from the civil attorneys to Mr. Dunn. In fact there are letters from Michael Dunn to the civil attorneys telling them 'I am not agreeing to any settlement to any amount.' And under Florida law if a person is found not guilty using justifiable use of deadly force, they are precluded from seeking a civil settlement and Mr. Dunn was adamant — 'Do not settle. Let the case go to trial.' He will prevail under self-defense, which would mean the family would be entitled to zero. And I think it is the exact opposite. I believe they settled before trial because they knew that if it is a 'not-guilty' verdict, they walk away with nothing under the law."
20. Reporter: That is a settlement?
Strolla: "But not an agreement on Mr. Dunn. You asked me if he agreed to it. He absolutely did not. This was between Mr. Phillips, his clients and a civil firm that did not listen to Mr. Dunn's pleas not to settle."
21. Reporter: Has the Dunn family reached out to the Davis family, or do they intend to?"
Strolla: "No they have not. I know that they wanted to but because of some things that happened in the very beginning between Mr. Davis and Michael Dunn, they were a little nervous to do that. I know I reached out to them. Unfortunately when we were in front of [Circuit Judge Suzanne] Bass, Mr. Davis was staring down Michael Dunn and started walking to the gallery and Phillips had to stop him. At the next hearing when we did our motion for indigence and cost, there was an outburst from Mr. Davis that basically went unrecognized by the court which is neither here nor there. There was definitely some anger and animosity early on. I can tell you that I did reach out to [Jordan Davis' mother] Ms. [Lucia] McBath when I first came on the case. I actually spoke to her husband. She was giving a press interview and I didn't want to interrupt it. But I did extend my condolences from the Dunn family to the Davis family because again, they are parents. I'm a parent. We understand it. And even with the facts being what they are and what we allege happened, you still don't want someone to lose a child. No matter what happens in this case you still have a young man whose life is gone and he can't come back and his parents are going to grieve. I understand that, but I think they were a little apprehensive to reach out to the Davis family because of what transpired so early on."
22. Reporter: What's it like for Dunn to go from being a man with no criminal record to a man charged with premeditated first degree murder?
Strolla: "Culture shock is to say the least and that goes back to this reporter's question about some of the things he said in letters and being racially biased. In fact he's actually become quite friendly with some of the younger juveniles there. They can talk through the vents and once they kind of learned and talked to Michael Dunn and realized who he is and had conversations, they even indicated to him 'Oh we thought you were an angry mean white guy" and they have actually learned to understand him. That includes the correctional officers. So it was a culture shock. I mean, imagine you live a wonderful lifestyle on a beach. You have family, friends, and next thing you know you are being accused of premeditated murder. You are not allowed out on bond; people are threatening your life; people are banging on your doors and the walls. To say that he was in a state of shock is again, to put it mildly."
23. Reporter: Is there a possibility that he will never get back to that "wonderful" life?
Strolla: "I don't think you can ever be prepared for it. He understands the consequences, but again, how do you prepare for something like that? I don't think anybody can."
24. Reporter: Does Angela Corey, an elected official, feel pressured in this case to get a conviction after the Zimmerman case loss?
Strolla: "Again that is probably a question best left for Ms. Corey. My personal opinion, I think we are human. I think it plays into it. I think you have to look at that. Again, was it 1 percent, was it 100 percent? You have to ask Ms. Corey. I think I know what her answer would be. But again we are all human beings. We all have emotions. And again if you reversed the roles with your job and said, well if you reported on that one way and you may lose your job, it may cause you in the back of your mind to think maybe I should switch my question up a little bit. I don't mean to pick on you. I am just responding to your question, not that you would do that."
25. Reporter: Unintelligible question regarding pressure?
Strolla: "You will have to ask the State Attorney's Office."
26. Reporter: Was there a deal for the girlfriend?
Strolla: "If they had a deal, they would have to disclose that. But I can tell you that there were certain things that happened where she was placed under subpoena to go speak and she was extremely nervous and you could see that on the stand."
27. Reporter: Are they still planning to get married?
Strolla: "I don't know. I honestly have had other things to worry about. Mr. Dunn, I am not talking about his relationship."
28. Reporter: If this jury deadlocks, are you going to stay on the case or withdraw?
Strolla: "That I don't know. I am not going to put the cart before the horse. We don't even have a verdict yet. That is just one of the questions I can't answer with any certainty because we are not there yet."
29. Reporter: It has been discussed that if this was an issue between a black and a black teen, this would not be discussed. What are your thoughts?
Strolla: "I can tell you this. As we stand here right now, as we were there last night with the media coverage, there were other murder cases going on in this building. And I believe one was where two officers were shot. And there was not one camera, not one question, not one media in that courtroom. So what I feel what I think is irrelevant. I think actions speak louder than words."
30. A reporter referred to a letter that Dunn wrote from jail saying it was full of blacks and they all act like thugs and if we armed and killed some of these idiots, maybe they would take the hint and change their behavior. The reporter asked if Strolla is saying that Dunn has changed his behavior since then.
Strolla: "I think some of the people in jail have learned who Michael Dunn is, and that exact letter was written after somebody, an inmate, walked by and said he was going to rape Mr. Dunn when he gets a hold of him."