(LAKELAND, Fla.) — The former city commissioner charged with shooting an alleged shoplifter at his Army surplus store was released from prison on Thursday — and has hired a high-powered attorney to represent him in his case.
Michael Dunn, who was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Christobal Lopez on Oct. 3, was released on $150,000 bail and sprinted from the Polk County jailhouse to an SUV late Thursday.
The former city commissioner for the Southwest district of Lakeland, Florida, has hired Mark O’Mara to represent him. O’Mara gained national attention in 2012 when he successfully defended George Zimmerman from a second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.
Dunn, 47, appeared before a judge on Thursday where O’Mara argued that the local politician was acting in self-defense when Lopez, 50, allegedly stole a hatchet from Dunn’s store. According to an arrest affidavit, Dunn confronted Lopez at the front door and Dunn grabbed the other man’s T-shirt before losing grip and opening fire. Lopez was struck twice and died on the scene.
The incident garnered national attention when police released surveillance footage of the confrontation on Oct. 15.
The city commissioner resigned from his position last week in a letter obtained by Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS-TV, saying, “It is with a heavy heart that I submit this letter to you. Wherein I am tendering my resignation as Commissioner of the SW District of Lakeland effective October 20, 2018.”
Dunn has always claimed he was acting in self-defense and raised the state’s “stand your ground” law, famously used in the defense of Zimmerman.
“You look at that hatchet and you have to believe that, as everyone else who sees it, it’s a deadly weapon, and when he decided to arm himself with a deadly weapon, that things could happen to you,” O’Mara said in court Thursday.
State Attorney Brian Haas refuted that defense in charging Dunn last week.
“I have determined that this case and the actions of Mr. Dunn fall outside the protection of the ‘stand your ground’ law,” Haas said at an Oct. 20 news conference.
Lawyer Adam Kemp, who is representing the Lopez family, said his client was trying to get away and posed no harm.
“Nobody deserves to lose their life over a $13 or $16 hatchet,” Kemp said. “You should ultimately be held accountable for your decisions, and we believe this was a senseless, preventable act.”
Dunn was ordered not to contact Lopez’s family and stay away from the Vets Army Navy Surplus store he co-owns and where the shooting took place. He also surrendered any firearms he owns.
He was placed under house arrest, which O’Mara lobbied unsuccessfully against in court.
Lopez’s family did not attend Thursday’s hearing.
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