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Lawyers set for closing arguments in Florida loud rap murder trial

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[February 12, 2014]  By Susan Cooper Eastman

JACKSONVILLE (Reuters) — Jurors will hear closing arguments on Wednesday in a Florida murder trial stemming from an argument over loud rap music that ended in the shooting death of a black teenager, a case with racial overtones that revived a debate over the state's gun control and self-defense laws.

Michael Dunn, 47, is charged with first-degree murder for a November 2012 shooting that killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn, who is white, faces three charges of attempted murder for firing 10 shots into a car of teenagers.

If found guilty, Dunn faces up to life in prison. Prosecutors say they will not seek the death penalty.

The middle-aged software engineer took the stand in his own defense on Tuesday and told the jury he opened fire in a state of panic after pulling into a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. He pulled up next to four teens in an SUV and got into an argument over the volume of the music on their car stereo, Chicago rapper Lil Reese's "Beef", according to police reports, cranked up loud.

The case has garnered national and international media attention because of the racial overtones and the self-defense claims. His self-defense claim has drawn comparisons to the trial of George Zimmerman, the former central Florida neighborhood watchman who was acquitted last year of murder after he shot a 17-year-old unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, during a struggle.

That verdict remains in doubt, CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin, who is a former assistant U.S. Attorney, tweeted on Tuesday night. "Especially in Florida given the breadth of the stand your ground law and self defense culture," she added.

A jury of 10 whites, three blacks, one Asian, one Hispanic and one person of Indian descent will hear the case. Only 12 jurors ultimately will take part in the deliberations.

In court Dunn denied calling rap "thug music," saying he preferred the term "rap crap."

Dunn's attorney, Cory Strolla, is expected to argue his client used legitimate self-defense after Davis threatened him in an expletive laced torrent.

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Dunn said he opened fire because he saw the barrel of a gun, or a lead pipe, in the back window of the SUV, and Davis started to get out of the car.

Prosecutors are likely to use their closing argument to expose inconsistencies in Dunn's version of the incident.

Dunn's fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, told the court on Tuesday that after the shooting Dunn never mentioned to her that he had seen a gun in the teen's car.

Prosecutors say the teens were unarmed, that Davis died inside the car in a defensive posture and that Dunn overreacted in anger.

Police found no weapon in the Durango after the shooting.

Under crossexamination, Dunn was asked why he fired 10 shots, the last three after getting out of his car as the teens drove away.

Since their son's death Jordan's parents, Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, have become advocates for gun control and for changing Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which allows people in fear of serious injury to use deadly force to defend themselves rather than retreat.

(Writing by David Adams; editing by Ken Wills)

[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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