LAKELAND - Former Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn was sentenced Monday to three years in prison for fatally shooting a homeless man who was shoplifting a hatchet from the military surplus store that Dunn managed.
Tenth Judicial Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen sentenced Dunn on Monday after nearly four hours of testimony. A Lakeland police detective and two aunts of Cristobal Lopez, the man fatally shot by Dunn, testified for the state. The defense presented character testimony from 10 witnesses.
Dunn's prison sentence is to be followed by 10 years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
Before Jacobsen read his sentence, Dunn extended an apology to Lopez's family for causing his death. He said he wished he and Lopez never crossed paths. Dunn empathized with Lopez's father, who died after the 2018 incident.
"I can tell you with 100% certainty that my reaction was based totally out of fear," Dunn said. "Without a doubt."
Dunn, who had been charged with second-degree murder for the 2018 shooting, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in March, just three days before jury selection was to begin in his trial. In the agreement, Dunn pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a firearm, a charge that carries no minimum mandatory sentence.
The conviction for manslaughter with a firearm can bring up to 30 years in prison, but the plea agreement gave Jacobsen discretion to impose less. The defense asked for a sentence no longer than 10 years, while prosecutors wanted up to 17.5 years.
Jacobsen said that, according to state law, 124.5 months, or just over 10 years, in state prison is the lowest permissible sentence, "unless there are mitigators. And here, the state has entered into an agreement which allows for a statutory mitigator and allows me to pronounce a sentence."
One of Dunn's lawyers, Mark O'Mara said that although it would have been a justified sentence if the judge sent him back home following the hearing, Dunn's sentence is toward the "very very" low end, so there's nothing in the sentencing that the defense would want to appeal.
"The family's going to move forward," O'Mara said after the sentencing. "Get him out in two and a half years, or there about, and get him to doing what he loves doing, which is serving his community."
Prosecutors called Stacy Pough, a Lakeland police detective, and two of Lopez's aunts to the stand Monday, Melba Rodriguez and Alicia Rivas.
Rodriguez said Lopez was the type of person who would help anyone. She said he used to pretend to play the organ at family parties to entertain his loved ones.
"Many times we'd worry because he'd leave out of state to work," Rodriguez said. "We'd worry because he'd go and, a lot of times, people took advantage of him because he was a good-hearted person. Many times when we'd get together and have parties, he always had us happy."
The defense presented character testimony from 12 witnesses.
Those who spoke on behalf of Dunn's character included:
Bob English, a former county commissioner.
Jane Scarpa, a three-year neighbor of Dunn.
Bill Read, a Lakeland city commissioner.
Suzanne Gaines Grant, a Lakeland native and owner of Gaines Jewelers, who said she knew Dunn since the 1980s.
Fred Harden, a retired FBI and FDLE special agent.
Kevin Shinn, a longtime friend and current employer of Dunn.
Jarvis El-Amin, an author and motivational speaker.
Gary Gross, a retired Lakeland Police sergeant and public information officer.
Shelle Meeker, a longtime friend of Dunn through is wife.
Phillip Silverstein, a manager where Dunn has been working since the 2018 incident.
Dunn's son, Lance Dunn.
And Dunn's wife, Brandi Dunn.
El-Amin told The Court he was shocked to hear about the 2018 incident because of how humble, caring and passive he knew Dunn to be.
"In my faith tradition, we're taught that the creator judges you by your intentions," El-Amin said in his testimony.
Dunn has remained free on bond since his case began.
Jacobsen said manslaughter is punishable by up to 15 years in prison but is enhanced because of the use of a firearm, making the maximum 30 years and increasing from a second degree felony to a first degree felony. He said anyone who has a gun is exposed to consequences of the use of the gun that they have to accept responsibility for and having a concealed weapons permit doesn't permit the person carrying to shoot someone.
"I'm not sitting here judging the character of this man, the soul or the heart of this man," Jacobsen said. "I am having to judge circumstances of a crime. I have sat down and scrutinized the videos."
Read more about this case:
Former Lakeland city commissioner pleads guilty to manslaughter
Judge excludes two defense experts from Michael Dunn murder trial
The shooting: Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn fatally shoots man in store
Grand Jury indicts Michael Dunn on 2nd-degree murder charge
Christobal Lopez had high blood alcohol content when shot by Michael Dunn
Judge denies ex-Lakeland commissioner's motion to dismiss murder charge
Appeals court denies Michael Dunn's bid to dismiss murder charge
"The State is not asking [The Court] to invoke a sentence based upon anything in Mr. Dunn's prior character," State Attorney Richard Wallace said Monday. "We're simply asking for a sentence that's based upon the purposeful action that he took on the video in taking Mr. Lopez's life."
The sentencing comes about three and a half years after Dunn, 51, fatally shot Cristobal Lopez on Oct. 3, 2018. Lopez, 51, was attempting to shoplift a hatchet at the store Dunn managed, Vets Army Navy Surplus just north of downtown Lakeland on Florida Avenue.
Video surveillance at the store showed Lopez grabbed a hatchet and attempted to conceal it inside his clothes.
Dunn came out of an office armed with a Glock pistol and confronted Lopez. As Lopez tried to flee through a glass door, Dunn grabbed him and then shot twice into his torso. Lopez died at the scene.
Dunn's defense team claimed the shooting was justified under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. But in March 2021, Judge Donald Jacobsen dismissed that argument.
"The state has proved by clear and convincing evidence that deadly force was not justified at the time the Defendant shot and killed the victim," Jacobsen wrote. An appeals court later refused to overturn Jacobsen's ruling.
A grand jury indicted Dunn on the second-degree murder charge within a month of the incident, and he resigned from the Lakeland City Commission four days after being charged. He had been in office about 10 months.
"That is a crime where, if he had gone to trial and lost, is punishable by up to life in prison," Jacobsen said. "That is with a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence."
About a week before Dunn's plea, Jacobsen rejected two defense experts - one a psychological expert and the other a toxicology expert.
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Michael Dunn sentenced to 3 years in prison for 2018 fatal shooting