BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) — Former Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn was sentenced Monday for killing a man who tried to shoplift from his store in October 2018.
A Polk County judge sentenced Dunn to three years in state prison, 10 years of probation and 200 hours of community service. The decision was made after an hours-long sentencing hearing where the judge heard from detectives and family members of the victim, Cristobal Lopez, as well as character witnesses for Dunn.
Dunn also addressed the court Monday, apologizing to the victim’s family.
“I can tell you with 100% certainty that my reaction was based totally out of fear, without a doubt,” he said.
Dunn, now 51, shot Lopez as Lopez tried to steal a hatchet from Vets Army & Navy Surplus, his military surplus store in Lakeland.
“He lost his life, it was a lot for us because we knew he did wrong but he didn’t deserve that, not for that,” said Melba Rodriguez, Lopez’s aunt.
Rodriguez says her brother, Lopez’s father who was with Lopez at the time of the shooting, has since passed away.
“When my nephew was gone, he died too with him because he was not the same person,” said Rodriguez.
“To me it’s been a big loss in my life,” said Lopez’s aunt Alicia Rivas of Lopez’s death. “I miss him everyday.”
Dunn pleaded guilty in March to manslaughter with a firearm, just days before his trial was set to start. If the case went to trial, Dunn’s attorneys were planning to argue that their client acted in self-defense. But Dunn decided to take a plea deal instead.
“This is about as close to self-defense as you can get and not have self-defense. This is what I call ‘imperfect self-defense,'” defense attorney Mark O’Mara said to the judge during Monday’s closing arguments.
Dunn was originally indicted for second-degree murder, but he took the lesser charge of manslaughter with a firearm.
At Monday’s sentencing hearing, a dozen people testified in support of Dunn’s character, including family members, retired law enforcement officials and current and former elected officials.
In total, 50 people provided letters of support, including Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz.
“I don’t think he’s a threat to society by any means. I think he’s been a model citizen and I hope that our judge will grant him some leniency,” said Lakeland city commissioner Bill Read in court.
“I can’t think of a better, well-rounded person than Michael Dunn,” said Bob English, former Polk County commissioner.
The judge also heard from the people closest to Dunn: his wife and son.
“It’s unfortunate that this series of events unfolded and I know that wasn’t his intentions going to work that day,” said Lance Dunn, Dunn’s son.
“It’s unfortunate that you never got to meet Michael, the man, rather than Michael, the defendant. My husband is not a violent man,” said Brandi Dunn, Dunn’s wife.
Per the plea deal, Judge Donald Jacobsen had the discretion to sentence Dunn to zero to 17 years in prison.
“I am not sitting here judging the character of this man, the soul and heart of this man. I am having to judge the circumstances of a crime,” he said at the end of the hours-long sentencing hearing.
The judge said prison sentences serve as both a punishment and a deterrent.
“Just because you have a concealed weapons permit doesn’t permit you to shoot somebody,” he said.
After being on house arrest for 3.5 years, Dunn was fingerprinted and taken away following Monday’s sentencing.
“The Dunn family understands that a life was lost and that tragedy, the legislature says, when you do that and you do that with a gun, we will punish you. I think that the 3 years is understandable based upon the loss of life,” said defense attorney Mark O’Mara to reporters following the sentencing.