Sunday, November 18, 2018
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Judge okays wedding anniversary trip for Lakeland store owner facing murder charge

LAKELAND — A former Lakeland city commissioner charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a man he suspected of shoplifting is on house arrest, but that won't stand in the way of a weekend trip he had planned with his wife next month to Savannah, Ga.

A judge on Thursday granted a request by Michael Dunn to travel with wife Brandi to the historic coastal city to celebrate their anniversary Dec. 7-10. According to court documents, the couple planned and paid for the trip back in July, about three months before Christobal Lopez was fatally shot at Dunn's military surplus store.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Lakeland commissioner charged with murder in shooting of suspected shoplifter

Dunn was arrested 16 days later and charged with second-degree murder. He was released Oct. 25 after posting $150,000 bail. As a condition of his release, he had to turn over all his firearms and only leave his Polk County home for work, church, meetings with his attorneys and medical appointments. He also needs to get permission to leave the county.

One of Dunn's attorneys, Mark O'Mara, filed a motion Nov. 1 asking the court's permission for Dunn to travel to Georgia for the anniversary trip. The couple made non-refundable reservations on July 13, according to the motion. Dunn would continue to check in with pretrial services each day, the motion says.

Prosecutors opposed the request because of the severity of the charge against Dunn, Assistant State Attorney Jaco Orr said in an interview Friday.

"If it's appropriate for him to be on house arrest then it's appropriate for him to be on house arrest and not off on vacation in Savannah when he's facing a murder charge," Orr said.

Circuit Judge Wayne Durden granted the request because the trip had already been planned and paid for but added that Dunn should not make any more out-of-state travel plans, Orr said.

Dunn, 47, reported seeing Lopez pocket a hatchet the afternoon of Oct. 3 inside the Army Navy Vets Surplus store that the commissioner co-owns in Lakeland. Lopez, a 50-year-old agricultural laborer, had entered the store with his father, police said.

Dunn asked Lopez if he was going to purchase the item, police said.

Video from inside store shows Dunn holding a gun in his right hand as Lopez tries to advance toward the door. Dunn pushes Lopez with his left arm, and Lopez tries to leave again.

Still pointing the gun at Lopez, Dunn grabs at Lopez’s shoulder from behind, as Lopez makes it out the door, the video shows. Lopez raises his left arm in an apparent attempt to break free, and Dunn appears to fire. Lopez falls to the pavement. He died at the scene.

Dunn told investigators that he fired twice because he was in fear, an arrest report says, but when asked what would have happened if he let go of Lopez, he said: "It might be fair to say that if I just stepped back and let somebody come in and take what they want, there would be no issue!"

Polk State Attorney Brian Haas has said he doesn’t believe the killing of 50-year-old Christobal Lopez was premeditated. But he also didn't see grounds for a self-defense claim, so he took the matter to a grand jury, which indicted Dunn.

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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