Tag Archives: opening

Sean Taylor Trial Opening Statements Were This Morning: UPDATES

Eric Rivera

Eric Rivera

Opening statements were this morning in the case of Eric Rivera, allegedly the shooter of Sean Taylor during the botched burglary that resulted in Mr. Taylor’s death. The state has indicated in their opening that Mr. Rivera gave a sworn confession, which will be played at trial. Rivera’s attorney countered that the police were in a hurry to close the case, and forced a false confession out of Mr. Rivera. That’s a difficult defense, as Mr. Rivera’s own words may be used against him. The state also has a co-defendant who has been offered a deal to testify against Mr. Rivera and the other defendants. The case will continue most of this week, and maybe further.

UPDATE:  CBS Miami has video from opening statements on there website, here. Friend of crimcourts, Janese Caruthers, handled the Defense opening, but CBS only included video of the state’s statement.

UPDATE: I found some more video on ABCNews.go.com, which includes a clip of the Defense opening by Ms. Caruthers, and a portion of the testimony by Taylor’s girlfriend, Jackie Garcia. (More on Ms. Garcia’s testimony can be found here.) We still haven’t heard how the cops allegedly coerced the confession by Rivera. The State smartly is starting with their strongest witness: making their case and building sympathy before the tough questions they have to deal with about coercion. Details are slim, as a gag order has prevented much public discussion of the case. The ABC legal analyst is right, that it is very hard to overcome the video-taped confession. ABC has more details here.




George Zimmerman’s Defense Continues to Do Well

The Defense had another strong day today, highlighted by the testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. Vincent DiMaio, an expert in the field, who literally wrote the book on gunshot wounds. His testimony said that his forensic review of the evidence was consistent with Zimmerman’s story that Martin was on top of him, leaning forward, when he was shot. He also testified that Zimmerman’s injuries are consistent with having his head driven into the pavement multiple times, and with getting punched in the nose. It is highly unlikely the state will convict Mr. Zimmerman, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. It is going well enough that Mr. Zimmerman may even choose not to testify, which would prevent difficult cross-examination questions similar to the interrogation of Investigator Serino, which was the most difficult part of the factual evidence so far for Zimmerman.

Also, the judge has ruled that she will allow the evidence of Martin’s drug use into evidence. Apparently it was just marijuana, which does not typically increase aggressiveness, but the Defense can argue that it could have impaired Martin’s judgement that night. More importantly for the case, it is damaging character evidence that Martin was not an entirely innocent kid. Sometimes such evidence will be excluded, due to the highly prejudicial impact relative to its low probative value, but there is some probative value, and the judge does not want to be reversed for denying a Defendant evidence that supports their case. It’s significant that it was the Defendant’s evidence, as there is more leeway generally given for evidence about someone other than the person on trial.

It occurs to me that there may have been a method to the State’s madness in filing Murder Charges instead of homicide charges. I have been critical of that filing decision from the beginning, as I thought it would be tough to prove that the killing was not justified in response to the use of force. Now it seems more and more clear that the State cannot prove that Zimmerman did not fire in retaliation to Martin’s force against him. Perhaps it makes more sense for them to try to to prove that Mr. Zimmerman hate ill will, hatred, or spite before the confrontation occurred: to back date the murder to Zimmerman’s actions before Martin used for against him. That would explain why prosecutor Guy stated that Zimmerman “wanted” to kill Martin in opening statements. They cannot prove that Zimmerman wasn’t defending himself, so they push for the theory that Zimmerman initiated the confrontation with ill will, and therefore shouldn’t be entitled to claim that his force was justified.

It still seems like a reach, and I don’t think the State will get there. They haven’t even gone all-in on that theory, as they have fought the Defense claim that Zimmerman was getting beaten when he shot. In light of the witnesses who testified that Zimmerman was getting beat, coupled with the forensic evidence that makes it nearly certain, the State is wasting time and losing credibility pushing that theory. I still don’t see them convincing a jury that Zimmerman stalked Martin with malice, much less that he wanted to kill him. It doesn’t make sense: if Zimmerman wanted Martin dead, why would he wait until he got beat up? The Defense theory of the case is much more believable, and the state has its work cut out.

Thoughts on the George Zimmerman Trial Opening Statements

While the media is all over the Defense attorney’s failed knock knock joke during opening statements, in the long run of the trial, I don’t think that’s going to be a big deal. While it was ill-advised, and certainly fell flat, it’s not so problematic as to irreparably put off the jury. He apologized, and moved on. I am more interested in some of the other things that came up in opening statements.

Zimmerman's injuries

Zimmerman’s injuries

First, the prosecutor made a bold claim that Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin “because he wanted to.” It’s an interesting strategic gambit, because Zimmerman’s desire to kill Martin is not an element of the crime. The jury instruction for second degree murder specifically states, “it is not necessary for the State to prove the defendant had an intent to cause death.” The State has essentially raised the bar for themselves by telling the jury they are going to prove intent. The claim is further challenging because the injuries that Zimmerman suffered indicate the killing occurred after the physical altercation. If “he wanted to” kill Mr. Martin, why would he wait until he had been beaten to do so? The state will still be entitled to the jury instruction that it is not necessary to prove intent, but they have made a promise to the jury that they will show it.

More Zimmerman Injuries

More Zimmerman Injuries

Secondly, the Defense statement indicated that one of the witnesses saw someone matching Mr. Martin’s description “mounted on top” of Mr. Zimmerman, “beating him senseless.” Witness John Good will testify and has referred to what he saw as a “ground and pound“, which is consistent with the injuries to Zimmerman’s nose and the bleeding from the back of his head. This fits with the Defense story that Zimmerman shot to stop a felony from being committed on himself, which would justify the killing. The Defense will argue that the shooting was justified regardless of who initiated the confrontation. However, the Defense says that Mr. Martin’s friend who had been on the phone with him will testify that Martin initiated the confrontation.

The state will have an extreme challenge, in light of the injuries and eye-witness testimony, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Zimmerman was not justified in using force under the circumstances. It’s a shame that the case was not reviewed by a grand jury before the state made their filing decision. Keep in mind that the previous prosecutor on the case declined to file any charges, then decided to submit the case to a grand jury. However, after being appointed, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey decided that grand jury review would not assist her, and upped the charges to second degree murder (the reviewing officer had recommended manslaughter charges). She did so in spite of the fact that a grand jury was already in the process of being convened. Ms. Corey had her assistants handle the case, but was present in the courtroom as opening statements began.

There has been a great deal of speculation whether Zimmerman will testify, and he almost certainly will, in order to tell the jury that he felt he was in danger. Depending on how much of his previous statements are entered into evidence, and how much detail the eyewitnesses are able to give, it may not even be necessary for him to take the stand. Still, the jury will want to hear from him, and I fully expect him to take the stand in his defense.

Also, the latest legal issue on the case is whether Zimmerman’s previous calls to the police about activity in his neighborhood will be admitted. As a general rule, character evidence, that is, evidence of a propensity to commit a crime due to the character of the defendant, is not admissible. The other calls will not be admitted unless the state can convince Judge Nelson that there is a relevant reason for their introduction. They may not like the result they are asking for, as the calls may demonstrate that Zimmerman had a reason to be concerned about strangers walking around in his neighborhood. The judge has reserved ruling on that issue.

UPDATE: Here’s new police video, including more documentation of injuries, and the lie detector that Zimmerman passed. His success on the lie detector will not be admitted into evidence, but I still agree with the analyst HLN cites, who believes that an acquittal is likely.




George Zimmerman Trial is Underway

If you have been on the internet in the last 24 hours, you are probably already aware the opening statements were yesterday, and that his attorney started out with a knock knock joke. While the media is making a big deal out of it, and while it fell flat, it’s unlikely to hurt him in the long run. The state even presented their first couple of witnesses. Hopefully I’ll have more time to add some thoughts on openings, and the judge’s ruling excluding the state’s voice recognition testimony.