In the past few weeks, a number of news media outlets asked me if I would appear on air or be quoted in print as a legal analyst on the George Zimmerman trial down in Florida. I was asked by the news media to comment, obviously, in my capacity as a criminal defense attorney, not as a present or former prosecutor.
While my analyses were provided from the perspective of a defense attorney, I have had my doubts on the subject of whether or not Zimmerman did not instigate the altercation between him and Travon Martin, and whether Zimmerman truly acted purely in self-defense. Now that the verdict is in, as a Boston criminal defense lawyer I can say that I’m not necessarily surprised by the jury’s decision. This is because while most juries would find several aspects of Zimmerman’s behavior to imprudent or perhaps bigoted, reasonable doubt as to the charge of second degree murder could be found here by most jurors. However, think it relevant to point out the following, from my understanding of the record:
1) Zimmerman, after initially calling Sanford FL police, was told by the Police Dispatcher to drop back and let them respond to investigate the matter; they essentially told Zimmerman to back off, yet he didn’t obey police instructions. He pursue Martin and a confrontation ensued that ended in young Martin’s death This leads to a rebuttable presumption that he was racially profiling Martin and that he instigated the conflict between the two that led to this killing.
2) Zimmerman initially told police investigators that Trayvon Martin jumped out (at Zimmerman) from behind some bushes. There were no bushes at the scene. Kind of a difficult thing to be mistaken about.
3) Zimmerman told police that Martin, on top of Zimmerman in the fight they engaged in, repeatedly “bashed” Zimmerman’s head into concrete sidewalk. The back of Zimmerman’s head revealed what could be termed minor scrapes. It did not reveal any major wounds or abrasions. In fact, he didn’t need a single stitch. Kind of a surprising result, if one’s head was “bashed repeatedly” against a concrete sidewalk from someone about 6 feet tall (which is about how tall Martin reportedly was.)
4) Zimmerman reportedly told police investigators that Martin, on top of him during the fight, told Zimmerman in the middle of this fight, “You’re going to die tonight.” As a Boston assault and battery lawyer who has spent a great deal of time in the Massachusetts criminal court system, I have a lot of doubts about Zimmerman’s claim on this point. Why? Zimmerman and his defense lawyers basically portrayed Martin as tough young street thug ‘from the hood.’ This is what the repeated claims of Martin wearing a hoodie sweatshirt were designed to convey (with considerable effectiveness, by the way.) From experience, I can assure you: Murderous street thugs who kill, don’t say things to their victims like “You’re going to die tonight.” They use street language that’s laced throughout with profanities and expletives, which I needn’t print here. This claim by Zimmerman doesn’t pass the Smell Test.
5) The Sanford, FL police investigator who initially interviewed Zimmerman noted that he presented, or came across as, “arrogant”, with “a hero complex.” This is consistent with Zimmerman’s failure to follow their initial directions to drop back and let them (police) respond. Certainly, this doesn’t establish his guilt, but it bears on his propensity, or lack thereof, for veracity.
None of these things, standing alone, would have been adequate to establish Zimmerman’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. As I said, reasonable doubt exists in this case. And far too much suspicion and mistrust was kicked up by civil rights activists such as Jesse Jackson and now-media celebrity Al Sharpton. Such agit-prop does little to advance justice, while doing much to advance the social relevancy and career interests of these people. All it essentially does is rouse the suspicion of right-leaning, conservative political activists, which causes the liberal left to suspect a whitewash, and fire back in the vox populi. The result is a circus: A zoo-like free for all, played out in the media like a Barnum and Bailey freak show. This insults what should be the goal of every criminal trial: The truth.
While the criminal verdict stands, George Zimmerman may want to think twice before signing any book or TV deals: Trayvon Martin’s family still may pursue a civil claim for wrongful death against him, depending on various reports still to be issued by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.