WEST PALM BEACH — A 25-year-old Loxahatchee man who is serving two life sentences will get a second chance to convince a jury that he fatally shot two men at a 2006 keg party in self defense.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal on Wednesday threw out John T. Dorsey's conviction on two second-degree murder charges, ruling that evidence presented during his 2009 trial would only justify a manslaughter conviction. Because the court found that Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Lucy Brown gave faulty instructions to the jury, it ordered that Dorsey receive a new trial.
Stephen J. Bunting, whose 20-year-old son Stephen Beau Bunting was killed along with 19-year-old John Lott, scoffed at the court's decision.
"That's our court system for you," said Bunting, who now lives near Gainesville. "To me, it's a pretty clear-cut case." Then, he added, "My own personal theory is that he had ill intentions."
If prosecutors had proven ill-intentions, the second-degree murder conviction might have stuck, the appeals court indicated. Writing for the three-judge panel, Judge Carole Taylor said Dorsey didn't act out of ill will, hatred or spite - all elements of second-degree murder.
Instead, she wrote, Dorsey had "an impulsive overreaction to an attack." That, she said, constitutes manslaughter. It carries a maximum 30-year sentence.
According to trial testimony, Dorsey was sitting or leaning on his SUV at the Loxahatchee party, when Lott, Bunting and several of their friends confronted him. Lott and Dorsey began cursing at each other. Bunting egged them on.
Eventually, Lott punched Dorsey in the face. That's when Dorsey reached into his pocket, pulled out a gun and shot both of them. They were less than a foot away.
During the trial, questions were raised over whether Dorsey's actions were justified under the state's "Stand Your Ground Law." The 2005 law says people who are being attacked have no duty to retreat and can use deadly force to protect themselves. However, even Dorsey's attorney ultimately gave up on the defense because the law also says it only applies to a person "who is not engaged in an unlawful activity."
Because Dorsey was a convicted felon, he couldn't carry a gun. That, is apparently why Dorsey's attorney asked Brown not to tell the jury about the law, the appeals court theorized. Brown did anyway.
That was a mistake, the appeals court ruled. Because Dorsey was illegally carrying a gun the law didn't apply to him, it ruled.
And, Bunting said, that's what bothers him. In all likelihood, his son and Lott would be alive if Dorsey didn't illegally bring a gun to the party. "I think it's pretty (bad) that a guy with two felony convictions had a gun on his person," he said.