Thoughts on the Zimmerman Trial as the Jury Deliberates

I have been watching this trial all too closely. I don’t know why. It is the first trial I have paid attention to since OJ. (If you don’t count that traffic ticket for running a red light I showed up in court for in 1998. I got half off my fine. I didn’t appeal.)

Several elements have intrigued me. There’s the way all the regular people out there react. There’s the heat around the perceived race issue. There’s the evidence that most people are incredibly confused or ignorant of the basics of our justice system. And there’s the way the media has been so horrible and irresponsible in their handling of it.

I’m most interested in the combination of incompetence, politicking, and back room maneuvering the State Attorney’s office and the Florida government have engaged in. But that’s a lot of stuff. Let’s look at a few random examples of how they’ve handled the prosecution of George Zimmerman at trial.

Need not have been actual

The jury instructions say the danger against Zimmerman need not have been actual to determine self-defense. I don’t think the crime need have been actual either for the State to take it to court. They just have to put together a story and poke holes in the defense’s case. (Wait…that’s not how it’s supposed to work, but I’ll get to that later.) At the heart of this story is a criminal mastermind named George Zimmerman. Completer of at least one or two community college courses about law.

If Zimmerman was a legal mastermind, a criminal law expert savvy with the best tactics for protecting himself from conviction, he would have declined to speak to police until he had a lawyer present. No defense attorney on earth would advise him to tell it all, beginning to end, and hope that it matched any and all available witness statements. As it turned out, his statement did.

The prosecution suggested that he, while being beaten and battered, was able to hear windows and doors opening. I don’t believe that – I don’t think you are aware of much in a situation like that. Tunnel vision and all. But the prosecution wanted to plant that thought in the mind of the jurors. (Planting thoughts and doubts about the defense’s narrative was their primary strategy.)

In any case, Zimmerman either thought there would be witnesses, knew there would be witnesses, or hoped there would be witnesses. Or maybe he hoped there wouldn’t be. He talked to the police. He began cooperating immediately. I assure you if he learned anything about the law, he learned that you do not speak to the police without your lawyer present if there is any chance you might be a suspect of something. But he talked to the police immediately and gave his account to anyone there to listen – the the consternation of every defense lawyer out there.

Speaking of legal masterminds….

When the prosecution had the chance to lay it all out on the table – to make their case that would eliminate all reasonable doubt, they used their precious minutes to say things like:

“If you don’t like the lack of evidence, blame the defendant…”

“If Martin was punching him, wouldn’t his bracelet have fallen off?”

“If Zimmerman was really the one screaming for help wouldn’t his voice have sounded horse in the recorded interview?”

In fact, I lost count of how many times the prosecution used the word “if.” I think it may have began every sentence they spoke during closing arguments except for the ones accusing Zimmerman of being a liar.

I was amazed that he spent so much time, especially after Defense Council Mark O’Mara had done a thorough job of warning against connecting the dots, making assumptions, or using everyday feelings in deciding the case, that Prosecutor John Guy would insist that jurors “use their hearts.” How does a prosecutor suggest a jury let their heart guide them?

The defense asked the jurors to let the law and the evidence guide them. As the saying goes:

If the law is on your side, pound the law.
If the facts are on your side, pound the facts.
If neither are on your side, pound the table.

To me, the doozie if there ever was one, happened when John Guy actually said “if you don’t like the lack of evidence blame the defendant.” By this logic, the state can throw anyone and everyone in jail. All they have to do is accuse someone whom they have no evidence to convict. Apparently a jury is supposed to decide that the less evidence the state can produce, that the fewer hard facts the prosecution can point to, the guiltier the defendant is of hiding it and therefor of committing the crime.

This guy was is a member of the Bar. He was sworn by his government to uphold the Constitution.

They pointed to things that are not illegal in any way to support their nonexistent case. They slew the tripe about him following, not staying in his car, and continued to rehash the metaphysical determinism argument that if only he had stayed in his car, none of this would have happened. Walking down the sidewalk, talking to a 911 dispatcher set in motion a deadly series of events that could go no other way.

To be fair, they didn’t blame him for leaving his house to shop at Target. But by legal standards, as I understand them, both activities are equally legal and fall equally short of being a legal provocation of violence by Martin.

My imagination works too

I can imagine very plausible ways this altercation may have went down. Maybe Zimmerman did wonder around behind the town houses until he came upon Martin. Maybe Zimmerman pulled his gun right away as he confronted Martin. This might have scared the daylights out of Martin such that he felt cornered and believed he had no other option but to struggle for the gun. Maybe he’d tried grabbing Martin by the scruff of the neck to effect a citizen’s arrest and Martin rightly fought back. Maybe he grabbed him by the balls and it actually was Martin screaming.

I can think of endless ways the undocumented events may have transpired during the missing four minutes of recordings that leave Zimmerman culpable.

The thing is, I can think of one way–also very plausible and consistent with all the evidence and testimony–and even with only the evidence and testimony apart from George Zimmerman’s accounts, where Zimmerman justifiably fired his weapon at Martin. Having that one possibility in the back of my mind is more than enough. If I were all six members of the jury on Friday, we would have beat traffic on the way home.

Upside down and backwards

O’Mara was right. This has definitely been a bizarre (I’d describe it as backwards) case. Rather than presumed innocent, the defendant has been popularly presumed guilty. The defense laid out an internally consistent narrative, supported by both their witnesses and the witness the state called. And the State yelled and hollered and spent two weeks trying to poke holes in it.

The Jury

As I write this, the jury is deliberating. They aren’t like me. (Probably a good thing.) They’ve been at it a day now.

The jury are fact-finders, not fact makers as the John Guy requested. They are to follow instructions on how to apply those facts, the ones that already exist–that they find within the evidence, to the law. The jurors can decide how much weight they give each witness and piece of evidence, but the aren’t allowed to decide whether they apply the law by following the jury instructions.

If they follow the law, they’ll acquit.

I’m not a Zimmerman backer

I don’t believe George Zimmerman killed Martin in self-defense. I believe it is possible. I suspect Zimmerman may have had ill-will and hatred toward Mr. Martin that night in that he channeled his frustrations over crimes by others toward the figure he saw wandering through his neighborhood. But I’m not certain of it. And I don’t think anyone in their right mind and free of bias or agenda can be any more certain than I am. This is why I hope Zimmerman is acquitted.

George Zimmerman is not a martyr or a hero–not in my eyes anyway. My interest in this trial, or you could say, the “skin I have in the game,” is with seeing how the law is applied. This case was dropped and no charges were filed initially for lack of evidence, then 30,000 protesters showed up in Seminole County Florida and demanded and arrest and a trial. So the prosecutor, chief of police, investigator, and their findings were pushed aside and Zimmerman was arrested and put on trial. Here we are.

I would like to think that no matter how loud the protesters, pontificators, and pundits, that due process and the rule of law can be followed. I’ll take my chances with the George Zimmermans of the world who carry guns to Target. I don’t want to take chances with a criminal justice system that is operated according to public opinion polls.