Specializing in the representation of crime victims, women and children.


By Wendy Murphy    Jul. 10, 2013


zimmerman-george-stand-your-groundIn one of the strangest trials in history where most of the prosecution witnesses testified favorably for the defense – that’s right – the defense – it will be no surprise when a Florida jury finds George Zimmerman not guilty.

Witnesses with the most direct knowledge of what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed were neighbors John Manolo and John Good. Both corroborated Zimmerman’s self-defense claims.  Good specifically recalled Martin sitting on top of Zimmerman and repeatedly swinging his fist downward at Zimmerman right before the fatal shot was fired.

Manolo took photos at the scene, confirming that Zimmerman had multiple lacerations to the back of his head and appeared to have a broken nose.

Under Florida law, lethal force is allowed when there is “reasonable fear” of serious bodily harm. People disagree about whether Zimmerman’s injuries were serious but one need not suffer the harm before shooting to kill.  Reasonable fear of the harm will suffice, which makes sense because what good is a self-defense law if it doesn’t kick in until AFTER your head splits open?

The most colorful witness by far, Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel, testified that she was on the phone with Martin when the two men confronted one another.  She was the only witness to suggest Zimmerman was the aggressor, which, if true, would undermine his self-defense claim.  While Jeantel was sometimes credible in terms of her demeanor and willingness to say things that weren’t necessarily good for the prosecution, such as hearing Martin refer to Zimmerman as a “cracker” and a “N…er,” she oddly went from tough girl to Emily Dickenson when she added the utterly unbelievable claim that she could “hear wet grass” though Martin’s cell phone headset.

Jeantel had other problems with credibility, too, including that she was disrespectful in court (accused a lawyer of being “retarded” and declared that she would not be returning to court to finish her testimony), gave multiple inconsistent statements and admitted lying under oath in a pretrial deposition.

With Manolo, Good and Jeantel as the prosecution’s key witnesses, it was clear from the outset the prosecution had no intention of prevailing. Indeed, the prosecution’s strategy seemed intended to prove that charges never should have been filed in the first place.

It may have been less stressful, politically, to charge George Zimmerman with murder rather than address the concerns of protesters who called for Zimmerman’s arrest, but it wasn’t a correct application of the law and it felt like a modern day Witch Trial.

The prosecutor has much to gain from losing, including that he can toss up his hands and say “I did my best – I put all the evidence out there and the jury said ‘not guilty’ so don’t blame me.”

A prosecutor with integrity would have refused to file charges in the first place, and would have found a way to address sincere concerns about racial profiling.

A decent prosecutor would have cared more about not stoking racial tensions and would have summoned together community leaders and stakeholders to transcend differences and find peace and common ground so that what happened to Trayvon Martin never happens again.

A smart prosecutor would have redirected the social conversation away from murder, and toward deeper problems of fear and disrespect.

George Zimmerman felt disrespected and fearful of intruders who terrorized his neighborhood with break-ins and robberies.

Trayvon Martin felt disrespected and fearful of George Zimmerman man who followed him and suspected him of criminal activity without justification.

But the prosecutor didn’t see the controversy for what it was, and she made everything worse by filing charges that pitted people against each other in a contrived narrative of black vs. white; guilty vs. not guilty; Zimmerman vs. Martin.

If there’s a silver lining in all of this, let it be that we refuse to declare anyone a winner no matter the verdict. If we’re lucky, the case will become an iconic reminder that if we all had more respect and less fear, Trayvon Martin would still be alive.

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