LAKELAND, Fla. — Just days before former Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn was set to stand trial for second-degree murder, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
Dunn pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a firearm in the 2018 killing of Christobal Lopez.
The plea agreement with prosecutors waives a mandatory minimum sentence. The defense asked for a sentence no longer than 10 years, but prosecutors will seek up to 17.5 years.
"We've worked with the state a long time to try to get this figured out and resolved,” said Mark O’Mara, Michael Dunn’s Attorney.
The plea comes nearly three and a half years after Dunn shot and killed Lopez, for trying to steal a hatchet from the Vets Army & Navy Surplus store, co-owned by Dunn.
Video surveillance captured Dunn pushing Lopez with an open left hand while he pointed his firearm. During which time, Lopez was attempting to leave the store, police say. Dunn is seen grabbing Lopez by the shirt and attempting to pull Lopez back into the store while holding his firearm in a "low ready" position, police say. Police note that although Lopez had the hatchet in his right hand, the blade of the hatchet was facing the palm of his own hand.
At some point, Dunn lost grip of Lopez's shirt, at which time he raised his firearm to "eye-level" and fired two successive shots. The first shot struck the left side of his upper torso, and the second struck his mid-back, police say. Lopez was pronounced dead at the scene.
Last year, a judge ruled that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law could not be applied.
“Self-defense is always tough to prove. The video both helped and hurt so we’ll figure it out. I think he took responsibility for what he did,” O’Mara said.
O’Mara said Dunn is remorseful. "He took a life and he knows that, and of course, he's remorseful for that. He felt at the moment it happened, that he had to but with reflection and looking back on it, you get a better insight,” he said.
Dunn will remain free on bond until his sentencing hearing on May 23. O’Mara said Dunn can serve as little as no time or as much as 17.5 years in prison.