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More about the Trayvon Martin case

July 3, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
There's probably a reason that all defense attorneys tell their clients to keep their mouths shut.

Reading accounts of the George Zimmerman trial in Sanford, Fla., this morning, I see that the prosecution showed the jury a TV interview that Zimmerman gave several months after he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, following a scuffle he claims was started by Martin. Prosecutors contend that he deliberately followed Martin, profiled him as suspicious, and shot him "because he wanted to."

In the TV interview, Zimmerman said he had never heard of Florida's Stand Your Ground law until after he shot Martin. Today the prosecution put one of Zimmerman's college professors on the stand, who said Zimmerman got an A in his class and knew all about Florida's self defense and Stand Your Ground law before the shooting. Had the shooting never happened, Zimmerman would have graduated in the spring of 2012 and hoped to become a police officer himself.

I don't know that Zimmerman's obvious poor judgement, his interest in the law or even his allegedly fibbing to a TV reporter necessarily adds up to a guilty verdict. I, too, know a fair amount about the law and at one point considered becoming a lawyer. I have read North Dakota's Century Code and State and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, as well as various legal blogs. I know it is a very bad idea to talk to the police, even if you're innocent, without a lawyer being present. I suspect all of that knowledge would fly straight out of my ears if I were ever in the situation Zimmerman was in that night in February 2012. Yesterday his friend testified that Zimmerman was stunned and wide-eyed when he picked him up from the police station. The police officer who interviewed him soon after the shooting testified that Zimmerman, a Catholic, told her that that killing people is always a sin. He was surprised and upset that Martin had died. I'm not sure that a man who was in shock was capable of a convincing fabrication.

What's interesting at this point is the way social media is being used in this trial, for good or for ill. Every time a witness appears, people give instant (often unflattering) feedback on Twitter and on various blogs. The defense attorney's daughter posted an Instagram photo of her and her father eating vanilla ice cream. The caption read "We beat stupidity celebration cones." The prosecution, apparently believing that the defense attorney can control his daughter's exercise of her right to freedom of speech, is demanding an investigation. Angry supporters of the Martin family have tweeted death threats to Zimmerman if he is acquitted. If the NSA is really watching us all, as Edward Snowden (currently in hiding) has said, then none of these people seem overly concerned.

What would have been good advice to Zimmerman is also good advice to Molly West and to the scores of blabbermouths threatening violence on Twitter: when in doubt, shut up.


Article Comments



Jul-16-13 12:33 AM

In danger of losing their lives? Not likely in Minot. I think they probably do get looked at a little more closely when they're walking down the street or in the store, etc. After awhile, that's got to be a pretty stressful way to live. I can understand all the outrage to some extent, but I still think this was the right verdict under the law as it is written.


Jul-15-13 8:00 PM

I'm white, not black, and I don't have much to fear if I walk down the street on my way home from the store. In a lot of ways, I can understand why black parents are so upset by this and feel that Zimmerman should have been punished. Statistically, minorities are more likely to be prosecuted and to serve longer prison sentences than whites for the same crime. Profiling and sentencing laws and programs like New York's "stop and frisk" all contribute to the outrage. Those are the feelings that Obama and Holder are trying to address. But all the moral outrage in the world wouldn't have made it appropriate to convict Zimmerman. The state simply didn't prove its case.


Jul-15-13 5:02 PM

I knew what you were getting at but the law that people call "Stand Your Ground" sounds like it was an addition to the standard self defense statutes that a lot of states have. Zimmerman's lawyers were claiming that he acted in self defense and weren't using the newer law for his defense. The newer law could come back into play if Zimmerman uses it to claim immunity to civil action.

So far I see the President and Eric Holder making soothing noises in their speeches and saying they'll look into it, but Holder's office also talks about the "limited" options under the law. I think the DOJ likely knows they wouldn't be successful bringing a federal civil rights charge against Zimmerman.


Jul-15-13 12:03 PM

The statute that would apply relate to "self defense." Zimmerman's lawyers mounted a self defense case and didn't use the so-called Stand Your Ground law that says there's no obligation to retreat if your life is in danger, presumably because Zimmerman said he didn't have the option of retreating at the time he pulled the trigger. The "Stand Your Ground" law would come back into play if the Martin family files a civil suit for wrongful death. Zimmerman can request a hearing and claim immunity because the killing was in self defense and justifiable under Florida law. The acquittal would provide strong support for the claim.


Jul-15-13 9:32 AM


None of this means that I think Zimmerman did all the right things that particular night. There are also reportedly some things in his past that cast a real shadow over his character, though he was very young when they happened and I don't think they had any real bearing on this case. I hope he has a chance to try to put his life back together and do something good for society.


Jul-15-13 9:29 AM

I don't know much about the Alexander case, but it certainly sounds like she received far too harsh a sentence. I hope someone will look into it.

I think this was the only decision the jury in the Zimmerman case could arrive at, given the law. I find it rather dismaying that the feds are considering charging Zimmerman with civil rights violations. Looking at the federal hate crime law that could apply, I don't think they're likely to succeed, but it's more piling on. A civil suit is likely to fail in Florida as well because of the Stand Your Ground law that grants immunity against civil action for a justifiable homicide. Zimmerman's lawyers have said they'll seek immunity if anyone does file a civil suit.


Jul-14-13 12:48 PM

Yeah, I think I first heard about the Marissa Alexander case for the first time on MSNBC last night AFTER the Zimmerman verdict was handed down.

Certainly sounds like it could have been a huge miscarriage of justice for Mrs Alexander. Of course, I don't know any of the facts of the case, aside from the few that you and MSNBC have presented, so I'm not prepared to comment on it any further.

So what does it have to do with Zimmerman's case. Absolutely nothing. So why bring it up? The race-baiting continues. Mrs. Alexander was a black woman, and of course Zimmerman was "white".

Well, understand one thing: the justice system may have indeed failed Mrs. Alexander. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with the outcome of the Zimmerman trial.

By the way, I don't seem to recall you championing Mrs. Alexander's case at any time in the past year. Why so silent, if this was such a travesty of justice?


Jul-13-13 11:46 PM



Jul-11-13 4:28 PM

I'll add that a good bit has come out about the background of George Zimmerman over the past year that makes me think he is not a terribly good guy. I am rather glad there is little to no chance he will ever become a police officer. But that still doesn't add up to second degree murder.


Jul-11-13 11:54 AM

If you have been watching the trial, you would have seen Zimmerman's Peruvian-born mother and uncle and his white American father testify and it would have been clear that Zimmerman is half white and half Hispanic. I believe the family has said that one of Zimmerman's maternal grandparents was a black Hispanic. Zimmerman also appears to be friendly with black and Hispanic neighbors, teachers, and others in the neighborhood. The prosecution hasn't done a terribly good job of proving he is racist, if that was their intent.


Jul-11-13 11:48 AM

I don't think anyone here said there is anything funny about racism or bigotry. However, it isn't necessarily illegal to be racist or bigoted. Zimmerman was not breaking a law by following Martin; he wasn't breaking a law by "profiling" a young black man as a suspicious person after there had been break-ins by young black men in the months prior in that neighborhood. Under the Florida statute, what matters is whether a reasonable man would have feared for his life or safety at the time he pulled the trigger. Zimmerman claims that Martin was on top of him, banging his head into the ground, at the time he shot Martin. Zimmerman had up to six head injuries -- two lacerations on the back of his skull, a broken nose, and other facial injuries, according to testimony at the trial. Martin had no such injuries, aside from a laceration on his left hand, and the fatal gunshot wound.


Jul-11-13 11:23 AM

There's nothing funny about racism and bigotry.



Jul-10-13 11:29 PM

An Innocent man? Innocence is in the eye of the beholder, my friend. And so far, Zimmerman is the one with the EVIDENCE on his side.


Jul-10-13 11:18 PM

Jb, I listened to it many times. There is absolutely no evidence Zimmerman started any confrontation, or even that Martin was in the immediate vicinity when Zimmerman got out of his car.

Like it or not, your assumptions are not fact. And the mere act of following someone to watch where they are going is not an aggressive act, nor is it against the law in ANY jurisdiction.

If you think you can justify Martin throwing a punch at Zimmerman for doing this, I see a jail cell in your future, because sooner or later, you're going going to apply that logic in your own life (if you haven't already).


Jul-10-13 6:10 PM

angeR69, listen to the phone call made by Zimmerman. It is very clear that Zimmerman was the one who forced the confrontation even after being told to stop following him.

angeR69 and AndreaJohnson, Martin had the right to throw the first punch if he did. He was clearly worried for his life. The Stand Your Ground law should only be a defense for Martin in this case and NOT Zimmerman as he was the one who was acting like a wannabe cop and killed an innocent man.


Jul-08-13 8:16 PM

Namexxx, you keep bringing that up. Juries do not and should not decide whether a guy should go to prison based on how they would feel if it were their kid or, in my case, my nephews. Of course I feel bad for the family of Trayvon Martin and that a kid lost his life. But the state has the burden of proof and it doesn't appear to have proven its case. I don't think there was ever enough evidence for them to bring charges under the Florida statute. They haven't proven that Trayvon Martin did not throw the first punch or that George Zimmerman was not in reasonable fear for his life. The second is what he needed to be able to legally pull the trigger.


Jul-08-13 6:32 PM

I wonder if this would all be so funny if it was your kid gunned down on the street because he or she went to the store for some Skittles.


Jul-07-13 10:37 PM

Andrea, I'm going to caution you right now on your application of reason and logic. I know you're just a lowly MDN reporter and blogger, but a case like this calls more for bigotry and wild speculation, like the professionals we see on MSNBC. Your liberal credentials are at risk.


Jul-07-13 10:28 PM

JBillings, refresh my memory. Which witness testified they saw Zimmerman pursue Martin up to the point of confrontation?


Jul-07-13 4:09 AM

Zimmerman was told not to pursue/engage Martin but proceeded to do so. If anyone had the right to "stand their ground" then it was Martin. Zimmerman knew he wasn't in danger if he had stopped following Martin but Martin knew he was in some sort of threat for his safety because he was being stalked by Zimmerman.


Jul-05-13 4:23 PM

The coronor, Dr. Bao, also testified that the knees of Martin's pants were wet with grass (it was raining that night) and that there were three abrasions on his left hand that could have been caused up to two hours before the fight, during the fight, either by hitting Zimmerman or scraping his hand on pavement, or when he fell after being shot. Martin's hands weren't bagged to preserve evidence, so some of the physical evidence from the scene may have been lost. No photographs were taken of Martin's hands and the clothes Martin was wearing were apparently preserved in plastic bags instead of paper bags, as would have been proper protocol.


Jul-05-13 3:35 PM

Zimmerman also had grass on the back of his pants, according to testimony, and some of his blood was found on the inside of a shirt that Martin was wearing under his hoodie. Zimmerman claimed that Martin spoke after being shot and said something like "You got me" and Zimmerman pinned him to the ground after the shot was fired and asked someone to call the police. The medical examiner has just testified that Martin was probably alive for between one and 10 minutes after being shot; he changed his mind from last fall, when he said Martin likely lived only one to three minutes afterwards.


Jul-05-13 3:32 PM

No. It's what happened after that that makes the difference. It was not against the law for Zimmerman to follow a strange man in the neighborhood and ask what he was doing there. It was not against the law for him to be carrying a gun -- he had a legal carry permit. It was not against the law for him to "profile" Martin or to look upon him as a suspicious person. He's made the claim that Martin punched him in the face, which started the physical fight, and that Zimmerman fell to the ground, with Martin delivering blows, during which his head struck the pavement. He claimed he screamed for help. He also claimed that he thought Martin was going for his gun and he reached it first and pulled the trigger. Other people testified that they believed Martin was on the bottom and was the one who was screaming during the fight. There is conflicting testimony from eye witnesses to the fight; Zimmerman, however, was the one who had the broken nose and head lacerations.


Jul-05-13 2:23 PM

--Continued -- But I don't think race had a whole lot to do with it. If anything, Zimmerman saw a young man walking down the street and profiled him as a potential burglar because other burglaries had been committed by young black men.

Most of the physical evidence and witness testimony would tend to support that there was a physical fight, during which Zimmerman suffered a broken nose and lacerations to the back of his head, and he shot Martin in the midst of the struggle. Martin had no similar injuries from a beating, save for a faint laceration on his hand caused by blunt force trauma. Witnesses disagreed on which man was on top or who cried out for help; some say it was Martin, others say it was Zimmerman. The question is whether Zimmerman was in fear for his life when he pulled the trigger. If so, it was justifiable under the law.


Jul-05-13 2:18 PM

Based on testimony at the trial, the neighborhood Zimmerman was patrolling had recently had a rash of break-ins and the suspects were young black teenagers. The police found a burglary tool hidden in the bushes in the neighborhood about six days after the shooting. The police said the tool wasn't connected to Martin, but it would tend to support the argument that there had been burglaries.

Zimmerman also didn't describe "the suspicious person" as black when he made the original 9-1-1 call. He did say so when the dispatcher asked him to describe the so-called suspicious person by race. Zimmerman referred to "f--- punks"; Martin apparently saw Zimmerman and called him both a "creepy ass cracker" and a "n---".

Martin was black and Zimmerman is half white and half Peruvian, with a black Hispanic grandparent. If Zimmerman walked down the street here, I would probably describe him as a Latino man if asked to give a description.

But I don't think r


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