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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-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


Jul-05-13 1:21 PM

Despite the overwhelming evidence of racism and prejudice against young Black men -- you don't believe this murder was about race?

Moments before gunning down this perfectly innocent high school student, the defendant is heard on tape saying, "These f-ing punks. These a-holes. They always get away."

Who are "they"?

Trayvon Martin was walking alone. In what context does this one kid become "they"?

Zimmerman was expressly told not to follow the person he repeatedly referred to as a "suspect," and yet he continued in hot pursuit.

Two minutes later Trayvon Martin was dead.

It is exceedingly clear that Zimmerman was acting out of his delusional, racist paranoia -- because the "punk" and "suspect" he murdered turned out to be a kid going to the store for Skittles.

Sorry if that's too emotional for you.


Jul-05-13 12:26 PM

Namexxx -- I don't think that this is a case that should be decided based on high emotion. I've read the Florida statue and interpretations of self defense and the Stand Your Ground law. I've also read the witness testimony, read the autopsy report and various descriptions of what happened. I think this was a terrible, tragic situation, for which George Zimmerman bears moral culpability, but I don't think it ever warranted a murder or a manslaughter charge. The local prosecutor didn't initially charge him because there wasn't enough evidence and the case the prosecution has put on bears that out. What's ironic here is that I think Trayvon Martin also would have been justified in killing Zimmerman, because he also was defending himself. I don't think race has much to do with the actual case, despite all the furor.


Jul-05-13 12:08 PM

I agree: "When in doubt, shut up."

And yet, the race-based lies and bigoted talking points continue to pour from this newspaper and other propaganda peddlers.

I have no doubts about this: if it was your kid laying dead in the mud, gunned down on his way to get Skittles -- you would not be making grand public pronouncements that you don't think the killer "should have been charged at all."


Jul-05-13 11:29 AM

-- Continued -- I'd also add that law enforcement officers themselves will "lawyer up" and refuse to talk to the police without benefit of counsel in a situation like this one -- even when they're merely bystanders to an incident. Many cases that result in charges are helped because the defendant gave a statement to the police without benefit of counsel and, more often than we'd like to think, because people innocent of the charges gave a false confession under police pressure during an interview.


Jul-05-13 11:26 AM

There's a YouTube video of a lecture given by a law professor, who is a former defense attorney, and a police officer that is called "Don't Talk to the Police." Both men advised not to talk to police without a lawyer, even if you're innocent, because it is so easy to be tripped up in a police interview and have whatever you say misconstrued. There are so many laws on the books that you may well have broken one that you don't know about. If you say one thing in the police interview and then say something slightly different, because your memory is faulty, it can be used to trip you up. It's the police officer's job to get you to talk and he can lie and promise things that he can't deliver to get you to talk. In Zimmerman's case, it may have worked because the police officers on that stand looked a lot more like defense witnesses than prosecution witnesses, but a person the police aren't inclined to like could find themselves in a real pickle.


Jul-05-13 10:06 AM

I feel Zimmerman talked to the police because he knew he was innocent....and he did feel that how can you go wrong if you are innocent?


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