Tag Archives: trayvon martin

George Zimmerman Seeking Up To $300,000 in Costs

George Zimmerman in Court

George Zimmerman in Court

George Zimmerman’s Attorney has indicated that he and his client may seek reimbursement for between $200,000 and $300,000 in costs expended during his defense. It must be noted, because multiple media outlets have been reporting it unclearly, or incorrectly, that this money is not for legal fees. Zimmerman cannot be reimbursed for the money that would go to his attorneys. The money is limited to money for taxable costs expended by any defendant who is found innocent, potentially including a great deal for witness fees. That’s a substantial amount to tack on to the nearly one million that has already been laid out by the State to prosecute the case.

As I said, the legal fees are not included in this request. Mr. O’Mara indicated that neither he, Don West, or the rest of the Defense team have received any money for their work on this case. That’s the best legal value in history, for superb representation from experienced attorneys.

If Zimmerman is sued in civil court, for instance, if the Martin family files a wrongful death claim, he could potentially be reimbursed attorney’s fees for defending that suit, if he can demonstrate that he should have been immune from prosecution. He did not file an immunity motion in the criminal case, but that wouldn’t rule out exercising that rule if he were to be sued. It serves as a deterrent to the filing of such lawsuits.

Why Did the Jury Acquit George Zimmerman of Killing Trayvon Martin? #Zimmermantrial

Many people have expressed surprise, disappointment, and even shock for the jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman this past weekend. The jury found him not guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin, and not guilty of the lesser included charge of manslaughter. This article is directed to address some of the issues that have been raised by people who cannot reconcile the verdict and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the case and the verdict. Please read through, and if there is a question that I don’t address, please respectfully share in the comments and I will try to address them as I am available.

How could this happen? Was this jury out of their mind? The state did not have a great case. Keep in mind that the previous prosecutor’s office reviewed the case, and decided not to file charges on it because they did not think there was enough proof to go forward. The early media version of the story was very one-sided, but as more information came out about the case, it was far from clear whether there was criminal liability. Most attorneys who paid attention to the case were not surprised by the verdict, nor were regular readers of this blog.

How can Zimmerman not be guilty when Martin was unarmed and Zimmerman had a gun? The legal equation does turn on whether one party was armed or not. The legal question is whether the Defendant had a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm. Early media reports about the case pointed out that Martin was shopping for Skittles before the incident; they failed to give important details about the incident. A fight took place, and Zimmerman has several injuries that suggest he was on the losing end of the fight. He had a broken nose and lacerations on the back of his head. That’s the basis for the legal defense of justifiable use of force.

What kind of crazy laws do they have in Florida? What wacky ramifications from the Stand Your Ground caused this? All the talk about Stand Your Ground really clouded the case. While it was discussed early on as a possible defense strategy, the defense did not proceed on a Stand Your Ground immunity theory. The Stand Your Ground law played a role, particularly in the jury instructions that were given. It removed the duty to retreat from the instructions, but did not change the standard for justifiable use of force. On an side note, sometimes the Stand Your Ground law is a good thing. But, it’s important to note that this was not a case of Zimmerman “standing his ground?”

But Zimmerman got out of his car and followed Martin? Didn’t that action lead to Martin’s death? While it was poor judgment for Zimmerman to get out of his car to follow Martin, that action was not criminal. Zimmerman lived in that neighborhood, and has as much right to walk around in that neighborhood as Martin did. There was an intervening act that lead to the death, and the state did not have any evidence that Zimmerman started the fight. In fact, one of the jurors spoke to CNN yesterday, and said that she believed Martin attacked Zimmerman and threw the first punch. But the equation doesn’t stop there. The legal question was whether Zimmerman had a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm. It is not legally relevant whether Zimmerman followed the neighborhood watch regulations, especially if he was attacked.

Martin was unarmed, how could it be justifiable to kill him? The fight that precipitated the shooting got significantly more severe. Evidence suggested that Martin threw multiple punches, breaking Zimmerman’s nose. The State tried to argue that Zimmerman was getting the best of Martin at one point, but the evidence did not support that. The evidence indicates that Martin got on top of Zimmerman and continued to beat him. Zimmerman’s story to that effect was supported by an independent eye-witness in the neighborhood, John Good, who came outside prior to calling 911. Zimmerman’s head was split open in multiple places, which supported his claim that Martin bashed his head against the paved sidewalk multiple times. The forensic evidence proved that Martin was on top of Zimmerman when the shot was fired. The juror indicated they were convinced it was Zimmerman screaming for help on the 911 recordings. There was ample evidence to demonstrate that Zimmerman was afraid for his life when he fired the shot.

People are saying that Zimmerman was a racist/vigilante/criminal, shouldn’t that count? There was no evidence to support the allegations of Zimmerman being racist, in spite of what Nancy Grace thinks. Zimmerman had made other calls to 911, which the state produced into evidence, but those calls did not make him sound overzealous. In fact, it proved that he may have had reason to be concerned, as his neighbors had been the victims of multiple break-ins in recent months. He had been arrested once before, but those charges were dropped after Zimmerman entered a diversion program. Zimmerman does not have a criminal conviction, or he would not have had a legal permit to carry the firearm. Prior records are generally not permitted to be introduced in criminal trials as Defendants are presumed innocent; we don’t want prosecutors to make their cases on character assassination. The tables were actually turned in this case, as Martin’s character issues were largely shielded from the jury. Great efforts were made to have the cased proved, or not proved, on the facts.

You’re not trying to say race wasn’t a factor? No, race is obviously a factor, but it is one of many. For instance, there was an allegation that race was a factor in the initial confrontation. However, there was not evidence to support racial profiling. Ironically, Martin made what could be considered a racist comment, calling Zimmerman a “creepy-ass cracker” before the confrontation, according to Martin’s friend. Is it possible the jury was influenced by race? Of course that’s a concern, but there isn’t evidence to show that race was the reason for the verdict. The jury was made up of 6 women, 5 white, and one a minority. Zimmerman is part hispanic, and identifies as such.  They did not acquit Zimmerman because Martin was a young black man. There was ample evidence presented that Zimmerman was being beaten, and that he has a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm.

Zimmerman’s injuries were not severe, how does that justify shooting someone? This is one of the contentions the prosecutors cited for filing the case after they lost. However, the legal standard is not whether someone had been seriously injured. Rather, the test for justifiable use of force is whether there is a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury. The fear must not only be reasonable, it must be imminent, you can’t use force against someone for future harm. The reason the law is written this way, as it was passed down from the common law, is that the use of force is justified to prevent death or serious bodily harm. You don’t have to wait to be mortally wounded to defend yourself, that would be too late. Evidence presented at trial indicated that after knocking Zimmerman down and breaking his nose, Martin slammed his head down so hard that it split open. In order for his injuries to have occurred, Zimmerman’s head must have been slammed against a very hard surface, such as the sidewalk. In the words of Zimmerman’s attorney, Martin armed himself with what he had available, the pavement. If such circumstances were true, a reasonable person would probably feel they were in danger of death or serious bodily injury*. The State did not prove otherwise, and the jury certainly had ample evidence to support a not guilty finding on the law. The juror who spoke yesterday indicated that rereading of the law is what ultimately convinced them to acquit.

Does this mean that a young black man can be shot anywhere? No, very much not. It was only the substantial evidence, both testimonial and forensic, that demonstrated that Martin was beating Zimmerman when Zimmerman fired the shot. While not an element of this case, there was ample evidence to suggest that Martin was the aggressor; that he committed a crime in attacking Zimmerman. Many people are trying to make this case a referendum on race in this country, but the facts suggest otherwise, and Martin was not the wholly innocent party that some have suggested. I doubt many of those pundits followed the case very closely, rather they made up their minds when the movement for Zimmerman’s arrest began. The facts shown in court are favorable to the verdict. This case is certainly a tragedy, and it is a shame that a young man was killed. The conversation on race in this country should continue, and we should keep the families of both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman in our prayers.

Is this one of those cases where there was important evidence that the jury didn’t hear. No, it is not. In fact, the jury got a pretty full picture of the evidence in this case. There was no statement by the Defendant that got suppressed, rather the contrary. Zimmerman gave about a half dozen statements and they were played for the jury. The physical evidence did not contradict his statements. The lead investigator found him to be credible. That testimony came in, but was later stricken. There was evidence that the jury didn’t hear that would have been beneficial to his defense. Zimmerman passed a lie detector test the day after the shooting. The jury didn’t see the pictures or text messages that showed Martin had used drugs or was proficient at fighting, and they did not hear that he had been suspended from school or had other legal troubles. This was not a hide the ball case, this was a very informed jury who found him not guilty.

Not guilty isn’t the same thing as innocent. We shouldn’t put too much faith in this jury verdict. This case is different from a lot of cases in that Zimmerman relied on an affirmative defense. That means the burden was actually on the Defense to prove to the jury that he was justified. There was no doubt as to the ID of the shooter, and Zimmerman never denied doing it. He always maintained that he did it in self-defense. The evidence corroborated Zimmerman’s version of the events. The evidence at trial convinced a jury that he was justified. I have seen people compare this verdict to the O.J. Simpson verdict. Frankly, the cases couldn’t have been more different.

Is he going to face federal charges from DOJ? The department of justice has an open investigation into the matter. The Federal Government can only file charges if the crime involved a violation of someone’s civil rights; it’s basically targeted toward hate crimes. It will be difficult for the Feds to prove there was a hate crime when the state could not prove there was a crime by Zimmerman. That doesn’t mean that he cannot be tried, it is an exception to double jeopardy for the Feds to charge him again even after the State tried him. It would be unlikely for them to press charges, because he was acquitted, but politics could drive the decision. The decision of state prosecutors to file was politically motivated, not motivated by facts. Angela Corey said nearly as much in her post-trial comments. As the case progressed, and more facts came out that supported Zimmerman’s defense, I was more and more surprised that the State had chosen to file charges in the first place. The Feds could still file charges if they feel it is appropriate.

So did the prosecutors drop the ball on this case? Some pundits have criticized the State for trial miscues that may have hurt their case. This case was not lost by the trial skills on either side. Rather, the facts did not support a conviction, and even a perfectly presented case would have trouble meeting the burden of proof when so many facts were not in their favor. Mr. Zimmerman did have excellent representation, and Mark O’Mara in particular did a great job of presenting a complicated defense case. I may do a later post detailing some of the errors the State committed in trying the case. And we will definitely follow the case to see if sanctions end up being levied against the State for their discovery violations.

Can Martin’s family sue? They can sue, but it is still difficult case. As I said above, this wasn’t a reasonable doubt- type acquittal. In this case, the Defense actually proved an affirmative defense, which will also be a defense to a civil suit. If the family sues, and they lose, they will be liable for the attorney fees for defending the case, thanks to the Stand Your Ground law. I hope they are well advised of their risks before they file suit.

This summary is my opinion, gleaned from my legal training and following the case as much as possible. I encourage you to review our previous coverage of the #Zimmermantrial as we have done quite a bit about the case. Crimcourts will continue to follow the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial as it progresses in the weeks ahead.

*Zimmerman also claimed that Martin told him he was going to die, covered his mouth at one point, and reached for his gun. If true, Martin was in the process of an attempted murder. This evidence was unrebutted, as Martin was killed. However, there was ample evidence to support the use of reasonable force even you discount the statements of Zimmerman that cannot be verified.

George Zimmerman’s Prosecutor, Angela Corey, Fired the Whistleblower Tech

State Attorney Angela Corey

State Attorney Angela Corey

The progress of the case against George Zimmerman was particularly contentious. Defense attorneys frequently complained of questionable tactics by the State in their preparation of the case. Their complaints were realized to be justified when it was revealed that the prosecutors’s office, headed by Angela Corey, had additional digital information that had been recovered from Trayvon Martin’s phone which they had not turned over. That information is known as Brady information, basically any information that might help the defense, and it is mandatory that the prosecutors disclose such information. The Defense team had explicitly requested the information from Mr. Martin’s phone, and had been informed that there wasn’t any more.

The reason that the information came to light was thanks to a whistleblower: Corey’s IT Director Ben Kruidbos. It came to the attention of Mr. Kruibdos that the information he had found, including numerous pictures and text messages, were not part of the packet that had been disclosed to the Defense. According to Mr. Kruibdos, he attempted to go through the proper channels within his office, including informing ASA Bernie de la Rionda, who handled prosecution case. Kruibdos was called to testify, and it became clear that Ms. Corey’s office deliberately withheld discovery information, was in violation of Brady, and did so to the detriment of the Defendant. The court indicated that sanctions could be possible after the trial. Mr. Kruibdos received notice that Ms. Corey had terminated him last week.

Mr. Kruibdos, who is not an attorney, felt ethically obligated to do something after he found out about the subterfuge. He was also afraid of his own liability for his role and his knowledge of the Brady material. He hired an attorney and his attorney turned the information over to Zimmerman’s defense team. Fortunately, the harm was revealed in time, and it did not prevent the Defense from successfully defending Mr. Zimmerman, who was exonerated this past weekend by the jury. Even if you disagree with the verdict, the Defense should not be prevented from putting on their case do to subversion by the prosecutor’s office. If the State has to violate someone’s rights to convict them, you have to question their motives.

This has looked like a political prosecution decision from the time the Governor brought in Ms. Corey to handle the case. Her statements since the trial have done nothing to dispel that concern. To summarize: 1. Angela Corey’s office withheld Brady material in a murder case, 2. One of her employees noticed the issue, and tried to go through channels to resolve it, 3. His complaints were ignored, and he felt legally obligated to disclose the information, 4. Angela Corey fired him, 5. The State lost the case, in spite of the subterfuge, 6. Now Corey’s office is going to get sued for wrongful termination by a whistleblower, and cost her taxpayers thousands of dollars. Of course, it’s not her money. It’s one more questionable, expensive decision by this elected official.

I will have more thoughts on Zimmerman being exonerated, but wanted to get this out since it was breaking today.

Thoughts Coming on Zimmerman Verdict

I’m on vacation this weekend, so I haven’t had a chance to put my thoughts down on the verdict. I will say I am not surprised, nor should be anyone who has followed the coverage on this blog. I am surprised how many people have expressed their shock: the verdict was not surprising based on the facts and law. The Miami Herald has a good break down of why the defense was successful. This is a good starting point for the case analysis: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/07/13/v-fullstory/3499114/state-never-proved-its-case-legal.html
My review will follow soon, including why this is not a stand your ground issue.

Aside

The jury is out to begin deliberations on George Zimmerman.

Closing Arguments Likely This Afternoon in George Zimmerman Case

The Defense rested without Mr. Zimmerman taking the stand, which wasn’t surprising in light of how strongly the evidence has favored Mr. Zimmerman. The Defense concluded their case by calling Zimmerman’s father to the stand to add to the litany of witnesses that identified the screams for help as belonging to George Zimmerman. The State called a rebuttal witness yesterday, and may have another today. There are quite a bit of arguments that the court decided to hear in the morning, as opposed to having another marathon session like the one that lasted until nearly midnight Tuesday night. The court expects to have the jury back at 1 pm, hopefully to begin closing arguments close to that. Both sides have asked for 3 hours.

I suspect the judge may keep the jury late to try to conclude arguments in one day. She may even offer them the possibility of beginning their deliberations  with dinner. Why not, they are sequestered and don’t have anywhere else to go. The complicated issues that have been dealt with over the weeks of testimony may cause the deliberations to run into next week: but it could be a very quick verdict. I saw a manslaughter case argued several years ago here in For t Myers where a young man was killed. The jury came back very quickly with a not guilty verdict, surprising many watchers who thought the young man’s death would warrant more substantial deliberation. However, the jury came to an agreement pretty quickly, and didn’t hesitate to walk that defendant. The facts were completely dissimilar to the fact of George Zimmerman’s case, but if the jury agrees, there could be a short deliberation.

Will George Zimmerman Testify? : UPDATE

All along I have anticipated that Zimmerman would take the stand. Defendants almost always need to take the stand in self-defense cases. As an affirmative defense, self-defense requires a defendant to prove that he had a reasonable fear that made his use of force appropriate. It’s very hard to do if the Defendant doesn’t take the stand. However, Zimmerman’s defense has already been laid out for the jury.

Zimmerman's injuries

Zimmerman’s injuries

The jury has heard first hand, during the State’s case-in-chief, no less, testimony from Zimmerman. They have heard him describe in detail how he was beaten, and seen ample physical evidence to support his story. They have heard his claim that Martin told him that Martin was going to kill him during the beating, and how he was afraid for his life. If the jury finds that reasonable: if they believe him, or believe enough of what he said to give them a reasonable doubt of his guilt, he should not be convicted. The jury heard his claim multiple times during the multiple interviews he gave to detectives, first at the station, then on video, walking them through the neighborhood where everything occurred. It is not necessary for him to testify to make the case to the jury.

George Zimmerman in Court

George Zimmerman in Court

There are risks in putting him on the stand. It will give prosecutors a chance to attack his credibility, to question his motives, and to challenge him for following Martin after he was basically told not to by the 911 operator. A skillful cross-examination could reduce his sympathy with the jury, and give the state another chance to develop their theory that he wanted a confrontation or to suggest malice in following Martin. While the jury may like to see the Defendant take the stand to protest his innocence, they will be instructed by the court not to take that into consideration. And as the Defense can point out, they have already heard Zimmerman’s story during the multiple interviews he gave to police.

I have long anticipated that Zimmerman would take the stand. But with the risk being high, and the case going so well, I’m not so sure we’ll see him on the stand. Frankly, if the Defense feels confident that they are in the driver’s seat, they may not want to risk handing the keys over to the State in cross-examination. It’s a tricky strategic decision the Defense will not take lightly. As the case draws near a conclusion, we will know their decision soon.

UPDATE: Zimmerman has decided not to take the stand. I think that’s a reflection of how well the trial appears to be going for the defense. If he is found guilty, the decision will be horribly second guessed, but right now, that seems to be a smart decision based not only on how strong the defense case appears, but on limiting the risk of the case turning the other way during a long cross-examination. The Defense has now rested their case, and the State is beginning their rebuttal.

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.

Zimmerman Prosecution Rests, Defense Case Begins

The State rested, with the testimony of Trayvon Martin’s mother highlighting the last day. The Defense has begun presenting their case, and the highlight of their day was the testimony of George Zimmerman’s mother. Both mothers testified with absolute certainty that they recognized their own sons’ voices. Only one of them can be correct, of course, but the certainty of each will probably prevent the jury from relying on either of them: unless some of the jurors really had a sympathetic connection with one of them. The state got to leave the first week of unfavorable witnesses far back in the jury’s memory, and finished strongly with the emotional testimony. The Defense smartly led with their own emotional testimony, to blunt the impact of the State’s and to try to leave the jury with a sympathetic final thought going into `the weekend.

The Defense moved for a judgment of acquittal after the State rested, which is a standard motion. The judge correctly ruled that there was sufficient evidence for the case to be submitted to a jury. No surprise: the burden for the case to be submitted to the jury is very low. The burden for them to convict is very high. It appears that the Defense didn’t argue Stand Your Ground immunity, and is relying on traditional self-defense.

The medical examiner apparently hemmed and hawed some on the details of his testimony. It doesn’t sound like his testimony will control the case. The pressure will be on the Defense moving forward to demonstrate that Zimmerman was justified in using deadly force.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/trayvon-martin/os-george-zimmerman-trial-state-rests-20130705,0,1610504.story

Zimmerman Trial Update

The prosecution finally scored some points the last couple of days* with the testimony of police Investigator Chris Serino. He asked Zimmerman some more pointed questions in his lengthy interviews, and challenged Zimmerman on following Mr. Martin that night. However, the testimony was not all favorable for the State, and the Defense continued to score points. The detective admitted the physical evidence was consistent with Zimmerman’s claim that Martin was on top of him when he shot. And the State continues to stress that Martin was not committing a crime that night, which is ultimately irrelevant to whether Zimmerman was justified in the force he used. At times it seemed like the prosecutor was challenging his own witnesses, which has frequently been the tenor of the State’s case.

Zimmerman with Attorney Mark O'Mara

Zimmerman with Attorney Mark O’Mara

I want to mention how impressed I have been at how defense attorney Mark O’Mara has conducted the defense of this case.  His demeanor with the witnesses must be endearing to the jury. His questions consistently ask for positive responses, so time and time again the State’s witnesses agree with what he says, or at least he conveys that impression. It’s a stark contrast to Mr. De La Rionda, who is very blustery, and has frequently seemed agitated with his own witnesses. Mr. O’Mara is putting on a trial clinic so far this case.

*Ironically, while the State as scored some points, and definitely had a couple of improved days of testimony this week, even this article was titled, “Prosecutor, Police Officer at Odds in Zimmerman Trial”