There was a fairly eventful first week of testimony in the Second Degree Murder trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. After the Defense’s opening statement “knock knock” joke misstep, things have been consistently going in their favor. In order to prove second degree murder, it seems that the State is going on the theory that Zimmerman was on top of Martin when the shooting occurred; otherwise they have trouble overcoming self-defense. So far, they have not been able to make their case. Several of the neighbors heard or saw part of the altercation, but the only one who got a good look prior to the shooting, neighbor John Good, testified that the person wearing black (Martin) was on top, swinging MMA style at the person on the bottom, who was wearing red (Zimmerman).
Much discussion has centered around the testimony of Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with Martin right up to the confrontation. While her testimony was not great for the prosecution, and the defense was able to exploit her significant credibility issues, she will not be the witness on which this case will turn. She did not see anything, and can’t could not know about the degree of force used by either party.
The State is trying to make Zimmerman the instigator of the confrontation, and the Defense is suggesting that Zimmerman started it. Only Zimmerman can testify to that, and presumably will take the stand, maybe within a few days. However, the real legal issue is not who started it, but whether Zimmerman had a real fear that he might be killed or receive great bodily harm. It is not necessary that his injuries be severe, or that Martin was trying to kill him. Under the law, he may be justified in deadly force if he legitimately thinks he may be seriously harmed. The physical evidence, the injuries to his face and the lacerations on the back of his head, support his story that Martin bested him, and was on top of him, banging his head on the pavement.
There is some method to the madness of the State’s case so far. They have chosen to present some of the weaker witnesses to blunt their force and prevent surprise to the jury later on. The State would have had no credibility had pretended that John Good wasn’t a witness, and if they chosen to let the Defense present that testimony later on. The State had to put that out there. Also, they have already gotten by the testimony of Ms. Jeantel. I anticipate they will wrap up the prosecution case with series of strong witnesses, whose testimony will be a lot more recent when the jury retires to deliberate. There is a suggestion that they will present the testimony of Martin’s father, who will state that he recognizes the screams for help overheard on the 911 calls, and that they are by his son, Trayvon. That will be exceptionally emotional testimony, and will likely have the jury in tears.
By the time the State is finished with their case, the pundits who are chalking the trial up as a loss will asking if Zimmerman’s lawyers can save him. The Defense will then try to couch the case in facts and what is provable and what is not. While the tragedy of the young man’s death is apparent, criminal liability is not. The Defense will stress that the State cannot prove that Zimmerman was not in fear for his life. They may call Mr. Good back to the stand to reiterate that Zimmerman was on the bottom getting beaten. Good also says he believed the screams were from the person on the bottom, whom he believes to be Zimmerman. It may not even be necessary to put the Defendant on the stand, but I expect Zimmerman will testify that yes he followed Martin, but that Martin confronted him, broke his nose and knocked him down, jumped on him, and was beating his head against the ground. He will testify that yes, he was in fear for his life. Unless the State can find some hole in his testimony, or he changes the story, or something else extreme, they will have difficulty disproving what he says. Crimcourts will be watching to see out it plays out.