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Thoughts on the Trayvon Martin case

Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman killed him.

As a father my heart goes out to Martin’s family. As a lawyer my head is astounded that the weight of the evidence for and against George Zimmerman seems to ebb and flow every day. As a citizen it’s frightening that a political organization put out a $10,000.00 bounty on Zimmerman and a celebrity (incorrectly) tweeted out Zimmerman’s address which led to the terrorizing of an innocent couple.

Even with the daily contradictions of evidence, which is still not all in yet, the media and court of public opinion has convicted Zimmerman of murder. The devil is always in the details but, in this case, the Devil is only slowly dribbling out of the details which has kept the public outcry on a high boil.

We first learned that Zimmerman got himself into big trouble by following Martin. We don’t know if he continued to do so after told to stop by the 911 dispatcher. Later, we learned from Zimmerman that he said he stopped and then Martin followed and attacked him. We don’t know the truth as there are no witnesses that have yet come forward. There was a witness, only identified as “John” by the Florida Sentinel, who said that Martin was on top of Zimmerman during a struggle. Unfortunately this isn’t evidence of who followed who or who was acting in self-defense. Zimmerman is still the only “Live” witness of those events.

What made the killing worse, if a death can be worse, was that it was first reported that Zimmerman said Martin was suspicious because he was black, a racist comment. Later it was reported that the news media had edited the tape and that Zimmerman said he was black only when asked by the 911 dispatcher to describe him. The distinction is huge in determining if a hate crime was committed. Along those lines, the public isn’t served well by the media describing Zimmerman as a “white-hispanic” and not as a “hispanic” A person of one race is no more likely to be a racist and to have committed murder or to have acted in self-defense than a member of any other race. Playing with Zimmerman’s ethnic designation is inflammatory. I had that same thought when news reports came out attacking Joe Oliver, Zimmerman’s self-described black friend. From a lawyer’s perspective, in evaluating a potential “hate crime”, motive and intent is everything and Zimmerman’s character witnesses are who they are.

The rush to judgment on contradictory  evidence continued when the media released a police lock-up video to show that there was no evidence of a struggle like bruises or gashes on Zimmerman’s head. By Monday ABC had enhanced the video to show injuries and evidence of a struggle. The video doesn’t tell us who followed who, or who started the fight, but it does tend to corroborate a struggle.

At first the voice overheard calling for help on the 911 tape was indicated to be Zimmermans as Trayvon’s father, allegedly, initially told police it wasn’t his son’s voice. Later, Trayvon’s father changed his mind. I have heard multiple reports from different voice experts indicating the likelihood it was Zimmerman at less than 50% and that it was more likely Martin.

George Zimmerman was first reported as being paranoid for having made forty six 911 calls. Later it was pointed out that he was a Neighborhood Watch Captain and that might not be unusual. At first the media used a 7 year old booking picture of Zimmerman  and than later of one of him in a suit as he appears today. At first the media used older photos of Martin as a young, innocent looking 14 year old and than later released Facebook pictures of him at age 17 sporting a gold-toothed and looking hard.   When it came out that Martin had been suspended from school for drug possession there was an outcry that Martin’s character was being assasinated. From a lawyer’s perspective evidence of prior crimes is not generally evidence that someone acted a certain way in the latest situation. However, it’s clear that the media could manipulate public opinion by alternately characterizing Zimmerman and Martin in different lights.

There are so many questions about what really happened in part because the evidence appears to change daily. The irony of the rush to judgment is that it is going to be difficult to get an unbiased jury if charges are ever brought against Zimmerman because everyone in America will have preconceived beliefs and probably heard some evidence but not all. The Devil’s work well-done. Of course that’s thinking like a lawyer. As a father my heart simply goes out to Martin’s family.

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