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Prosecutor would be wise to plead out the killer in Trayvon Martin case

May 21, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
If Angela Corey, the Florida special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case, is wise, she will attempt to plead out Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, and avoid taking this case to trial.

I think there's a very real chance that Zimmerman will be acquitted of second degree murder charges and quite possibly also of manslaughter if the case does end up going to trial. Based on what I've read, I think Corey overcharged this case, probably due to public outrage. If I were Corey, I would allow Zimmerman to plead guilty to reckless endangerment, with minimal jail time, and then permit him to disappear quietly into the shadows. If the trial goes forward, I think there's a potential for protests and potentially violent riots, if Zimmerman is acquitted. Emotions are running extraordinarily high in the case.

Martin, who was black, was the 17-year-old who was killed on Feb. 26 in a gated neighborhood in Sanford, Fla., while walking back from the store to his father's fiancee's house. Zimmerman, who is half white and half Hispanic, is the 28-year-old neighborhood watchman who saw Martin and thought he looked suspicious. Zimmerman got out of his car, ignoring instructions from a 911 operator, and followed Martin. A confrontation occurred and Martin ended up dead from a bullet to the chest.

The evidence that was released was a deciding factor for me in deciding that Zimmerman is not guilty of second degree murder. Zimmerman had a broken nose and bloody gashes on the back of his head immediately following the killing; an autopsy revealed that Martin had injuries to his knuckles and had traces of marijuana in his blood. The physical evidence would seem to back up Zimmerman's story that Martin was on top of him, banging his head into the pavement, at the time Zimmerman reached for his gun and shot him in the chest. Zimmerman claims he shot Martin in self defense. Under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, he was not required to retreat or refrain from using deadly force when his life was threatened. The same law might have applied to Martin, who apparently feared for his own life that night, had Zimmerman been the one who ended up dead. Witnesses have given conflicted testimony about what happened, more than enough to raise reasonable doubt.

As I've said before, I think Zimmerman bears a great deal of moral responsibility for the boy's death. The boy would not be dead if Zimmerman had not found a black teenager in a hoodie suspicious looking and if Zimmerman had not taken it upon himself to get out of the car and follow him, carrying a loaded weapon. That said, Zimmerman was not legally required to stay in the car. He had a concealed carry permit and was legally entitled to carry the weapon for protection. It was also not against the law for Zimmerman to follow the kid and ask what he was doing in the neighborhood. It's also not against the law to be a racist. Under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which probably requires some retooling, Zimmerman had a right to defend himself with deadly force if he felt his life was in danger at the moment his head was being pounded into the pavement.

I think there is some room for disagreement over whether Zimmerman is guilty of reckless endangerment. He certainly put the tragedy in motion by getting out of the car in the first place. But if I were on the jury, I could not convict Zimmerman of either second degree murder or manslaughter. I suspect there will be at least one or two people on the jury who will feel the same way.


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