We must dismantle the fraternity of racism and build an altar of love and justice, writes the pastor of Obama’s former church.
The new evidence released by prosecutors makes clear that if the case even reaches trial, which is highly unlikely, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law means Zimmerman is sure to get acquitted, writes David R. Dow.
With last week's release of a trove of information about the Trayvon Martin killing, three things are now apparent.
Gary Green, Pool / Getty Images
First, special prosecutor Angela Corey's statement last month that public pressure had nothing to do with the decision to bring charges against George Zimmerman is exposed for the bunk that it always was. Two weeks after the shooting, well before the story went national, a principal investigating officer recommended arresting Zimmerman on manslaughter charges. His recommendation was ignored. In announcing an about-face in April, Corey attributed the decision to charge Zimmerman with new facts uncovered during the investigation, but the recently disclosed documents reveal that the case against Zimmerman was as strong in mid-March as it was in mid-April. Facts have indeed come to light since March, and for every fact that makes the case against Zimmerman stronger, there's another that makes it weaker. I'm not sure if bowing to public pressure in deciding to prosecute is a bad thing, but I do think dishonesty about one's motives is bad.
Second, if the case against Zimmerman ever reaches a jury (which it probably won't), there is no chance he will be convicted. Of course, Corey is an experienced prosecutor who must know this, which only further reveals the role public pressure played in her decision to indict.
Why won’t Zimmerman be convicted? Because we now know everything the jury is going to know. We've read the reports, seen the photos, heard the tapes. The only way the jury could learn something not contained in the documents, photographs, and medical reports released last week would be if witnesses with personal knowledge were to testify. But that will not happen, because Martin is dead, and Zimmerman won't speak.
So here is what the jury will learn: Zimmerman called police frequently to report supposedly suspicious characters, and every time he called he was suspicious about someone black. It will learn that a 911 tape records someone shouting "Help!” right before Zimmerman fired the single fatal shot from point-blank range. Some witnesses say the person screaming was Martin, some say it was Zimmerman, and the FBI's analyst says the recording is too distorted to tell. (Notably, the newly released documents reveal that when an investigator spoke with Martin’s father, Tracy, and asked whether the screaming on the tape was his son’s, he responded, “No.”)
The jury will also learn that the back of Zimmerman's shirt was wet, as if he had been lying on his back in the wet grass; that he had apparently been struck in the face, and that he was bleeding from a gash on the back of his head. It will learn that police officers asked him at least three times whether he wanted to go to the hospital—confirming contemporaneously that he had visible physical injuries.
Witnesses recount what they saw the night Trayvon Martin died.
The famed attorney is arguing that the charges against George Zimmerman should be dropped. But Mansfield Frazier says a trial in open court is the only way we'll know that justice was served.
When a voice as authoritative in legal matters as Alan Dershowitz’s calls for charges against George Zimmerman to be dropped, people listen. In a New York Daily News article he recounts the documented injuries Zimmerman suffered and then writes, “If this evidence turns out to be valid, the prosecutor will have no choice but to drop the second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman—if she wants to act ethically, lawfully and professionally.”
George Zimmerman at a court hearing on April 12. (Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel, Pool / AP Photo)
While I have the utmost respect for Dershowitz, in this case I have to disagree. There are simply too many unanswered questions to even suggest circumventing the jury process by dropping the charges. This case cries out for a very public and thorough airing of the facts.
Certainly Zimmerman’s injuries add another layer to an already cloudy set of circumstances, but all they really prove is that a violent struggle took place between him and Trayvon Martin, which is all the more reason to allow the legal process to play out. We need find out—to the greatest extent possible—what really happened. And while Zimmerman’s attorney is duty-bound to get the best possible outcome for his client, the prosecutor in this case has a duty to assure that all of the facts are presented in a legal forum.
At heart, this case is really about the type of society some want to have versus the one the National Rifle Association wants to foist on an unsuspecting public. Just imagine for a minute that Trayvon Martin was an adult instead of a juvenile; further, that he was licensed to carry a concealed weapon; and still further, that he had a gun on his person when Zimmerman approached him. Under “Stand Your Ground” laws Martin could have just as easily shot and killed Zimmerman instead, and (if not for the fact he was black, and that laws—when race enters into the picture—have been applied unequally in this country for centuries) he then could have made the same self-defense claim. Under this type of Wild West mentality fistfights can (and will) escalate into murders.
Nonetheless, more laws are being proposed in some states to allow concealed weapons to be carried into bars, schools, and public buildings, all in the name of creating a safer society.
According to a study published in the prestigious American Journal of Epidemiology, however, “Those persons with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home …”
Writing on the website for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence, Dennis Henigan said, “The NRA has a wonderfully simple story to tell. In the NRA’s world, people are neatly divided into two readily identifiable groups: good guys and bad guys. In this imaginary world, we know that legal carriers of guns must be good guys and that good guys use their guns only in legitimate self-defense—that’s what makes them good guys in the first place. The Trayvon Martin tragedy reveals the real world to be far more complicated.” Indeed it is.
As prosecutors release evidence.
The lead detective in the case against George Zimmerman's alleged shooting of Trayvon Martin said he believes Zimmerman caused the fight by getting out of his car to confront Martin, and believes the Florida neighborhood-watch volunteer should be charged with manslaughter. This comes as prosecutors released more than 200 pages of photos and eyewitness accounts Thursday showing Zimmerman had wounds to his face and the back of his head, but the evidence is considered mixed for him. An autopsy also showed that Martin had traces of THC, which is from marijuana, in his blood and urine.
The trove of new documents—from witness reports to crime-scene photos— answers some questions but raises others, reports Aram Roston.
Florida prosecutors on Thursday released a vast trove of evidence in the murder case against George Zimmerman. The material—some of which is graphic—shines new light on what happened the night Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American who he believed was acting suspiciously as he walked through Zimmerman’s townhouse community near Orlando. But the new evidence also leaves some key questions unanswered.
The special prosecutor’s office released the information under Florida’s Open Records Act. Until now, virtually all the documents concerning the controversial shooting were sealed.
The release includes 183 heavily redacted pages of documents, including Martin’s autopsy report, witness statements, and police reports. In addition, prosecutors released photos taken by police at the scene of the killing, and audio recordings of 911 calls made by neighbors during and after the fight that resulted in Martin’s death.
Zimmerman, 28, claimed self-defense and was initially not charged in the Feb. 26 shooting, resulting in widespread national protests. On April 11, prosecutors charged him with second-degree murder.
Among the details released Thursday, the police officer who approached Martin after he was shot stated in a report that he could detect no pulse, but said as he started CPR, “I noticed bubbling sounds” from the fatally injured teenager.
One piece of evidence likely to anger those who felt Zimmerman should have been charged sooner was a police report by the original investigator, saying that Zimmerman should be arrested and charged with manslaughter because “the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman.” That report was dated March 13, nearly a month before Zimmerman was charged.
In the wake of George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin, Aram Roston wanted to see for himself how hard it was to get a concealed-weapon permit in Florida. The answer: Not very.
Earlier this month, I laid out $60 at a gun store in Orlando to take the firearms course required for a license to carry a concealed weapon.
Rieg’s Gun Shop and Range is located in a squat cinderblock building, between the Baby Dolls strip club and The Royal bar. Inside, a long-haired cat lounged on a glass display case that held used semi-automatic pistols. Rifles and shotguns hung on a wall, and there were novelty paper targets for sale near the indoor range. One featured Osama bin Laden; another showed a woman brandishing a tequila bottle in one hand and an automatic handgun in the other.
The store manager helped me through the paperwork, and then notarized the application himself. He had the casual demeanor of a surfer, with blond hair and a backwards baseball cap.
“Occupation?” he asked.
“Journalist,” I said. I told him I wanted to see how easy it was to get a concealed-carry permit in Florida.
“Pretty freaking easy,” he said in a slow drawl as he filled in the form.
More than 900,000 people are currently licensed to carry concealed firearms in Florida—including, until recently, George Zimmerman, who in February shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager he felt was behaving suspiciously. Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchman, has claimed that the shooting was in self-defense, and invoked the state’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law. Because of that law he was not immediately arrested, leading to a national furor centered largely on issues of race. But now that Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder, much of the legal focus will likely shift toward self-defense laws such as Stand Your Ground. Specifically, when is the use of deadly force justified?
Nick Ut / AP Photo
The Trayvon Martin case has suddenly revived efforts in Congress to ban racial profiling. Miranda Green on whether a federal law is needed—or will hamstring cops.
In his first State of the Union address, George W. Bush took aim at the practice of racial profiling, proclaiming that “we will end it in America.”
The parents of Trayvon Martin, Tracy Martin (C) and Sybrina Fulton (3rd L), are escorted by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) (L), attorney Benjamin Crump, Rep. Bobby Rush (R-IL) and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) after attending a House Judiciary Committee Briefing on Racial Profiling and Hate Crimes in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images )
Then came 9/11.
“I think we were on the verge of passing it 10 years ago and the attack on our country put the legislation on hold,” says Sen. Ben Cardin. But another, more recent tragedy may have changed the political atmosphere.
“We thought last year the climate was right to get the support necessary to pass this along, and the Trayvon Martin case brought this legislation to better focus,” Cardin says. The Maryland Democrat has sponsored the End Racial Profiling Act, which would prohibit law enforcement from using race or religion as a basis for search, seizure, or arrest for a half-dozen years. Seizing on momentum generated by the killing of 17-year-old Martin in February, Cardin has gained the support of 12 Democratic cosponsors, including Sen. John Kerry, and the Senate Judiciary Committee recently held a hearing on the measure.
“Racial profiling is wrong. It’s un-American. It’s something that should have no place in modern law enforcement,” says Cardin. “I thought it was important that there be a national standard so law enforcement, local or national, knows that it’s not permitted.” In the House, Democratic Rep. John Conyers has 57 cosponsors for a companion measure; only one is a Republican. The Obama White House has not taken a position on the bills.
A 2004 report by Amnesty International found that 32 million people in the United States claimed to have been victims of racial profiling. A 2009 American Civil Liberties Union study in Illinois found that Latinos there were three times more likely to be asked to have their vehicles searched than white drivers—even though white drivers were more than 2.5 times more likely to be found with contraband. The ACLU found similar results in Arizona and Louisiana.
But this year’s bill still lacks Republican support. The only Republican to attend the Judiciary hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham, voiced general support for the bill but said profiling groups like Muslims might be necessary to maintain national security.
Bill Lee submitted a proposal for resignation.
On the same day that Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman was released on bail, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. attempted to leave his job—but was stopped. The police chief submitted a proposal for resignation on Monday but was denied an exit by the Sanford City Commission, who voted to reject the proposal. Lee stepped back from his post temporarily last month as outrage grew over the way he handled the Martin shooting. Some commissioners were said to have faulted city manager Norton N. Bonaparte Jr. for not standing up for the chief as the scandal grew into a national story.
Left jail just after midnight.
George Zimmerman walked out of the Seminole County jail just after midnight Monday morning after posting $150,000 bail. Zimmerman put up $15,000 (10 percent) of the bail total to be released and was headed to an undisclosed location that could be outside of Florida. The neighborhood-watch volunteer did not make any statement before entering a white BMW outside the jail. Zimmerman has been ordered to adhere to an evening curfew and was stripped of his passport. He also is not allowed to possess a gun. Legal experts say it is not uncommon for a person charged with second-degree murder to go free before his or her trial.
Not only will it be impossible to find a jury without preconceived opinions in the Trayvon Martin case—it will be impossible to find one that will convict, says Mansfield Frazier.
An editor I used to work for had a favorite saying: “Predicting the future is usually as easy as stating the obvious.” In the upcoming trial of George Zimmerman, the “obvious” is this: there’s little, if any, chance to avoid not only a mistrial, but a series of them if the state continues to reindict him, which it has the right to do and no doubt will, but with the same result over and over again.
Zimmerman at his bond hearing April 20th (Gary Green / The Orlando Sentinel-Getty Images-pool)
At some point in the future, after endless retrials, it will seem as if this case—like the racial discord that will cause it to hang around our nation's collective neck like an albatross—has always been a part of American life, like Mount Rushmore, the Liberty Bell, or the Washington Monument.
The problem for the Florida legal system is that at this juncture, the case really isn’t about points of guilt or innocence that a jury can make reasoned decisions on. The case has become a referendum on the Stand Your Ground law and, more importantly, a referendum on the thorny issue of race in America. How to bridge the chasm that divides the races in America (which, amazingly, seems to both widen and narrow at the same instant in this country) is not only a question we don’t have the answer to, it’s a question we don’t even like to ask.
However, the case at hand is forcing our hand—it quite simply won’t allow us to duck the issue of race, at least for a while. Whether this is a good or bad thing is yet to be seen. Will this forced confrontation of racial attitudes help to solve our national problem, or will it only be made worse?
Voir dire is the process whereby attorneys from both sides get to ask potential jurors questions. Under Florida law six jurors (not 12) will hear the case against Zimmerman. In the state’s code of criminal procedure, the section that outlines the “grounds for challenge to individual jurors for cause” (Section 913.03) is the longest and most detailed by far, and for good reason. All criminal-defense lawyers (and prosecutors, as well) know cases can be won or lost during jury selection. In addition to striking a juror for “cause,” each side has six “preemptory” challenges, which means a potential juror can be dismissed without a reason being given. After Jim Crow laws were abolished, these preemptory challenges were the tool used to keep blacks off of juries.
But all-white juries are a thing of the not-too-distant past, and there’s no way to impanel a jury in the case at hand that doesn’t have at least one or two blacks on it. And with Florida’s liberal use of cameras in courtrooms (unless the judge rules them out in this case or instructs that the jury not be shown), everyone in the country is going to know who is sitting on the jury, and therein lies the rub.
The facts of this case, no matter if they are for or against Zimmerman, ultimately will have very little to do with the outcome. Jurors, when it comes to voting on guilt or innocence, are most likely going to break down along racial lines. Try as they might to be good citizens and follow the instructions of the judge to put their personal feelings aside and make a decision based only on the facts of the case, the odds are that they will deadlock. This is not to say they are weak people; rather, it indicates how strongly race factors into decisions in American life, and it’s hard to see how this case will be an exception. Jurors are not superhuman.
At the bond hearing, an investigator says Zimmerman confronted Martin but doesn't know who struck first. Aram Roston reports from the courtroom on what it could mean for the trial.
The bond hearing in courtroom 5D at Seminole County courthouse was fairly routine until George Zimmerman got up and shuffled from the defense table to the witness stand. Virtually all the onlookers seemed to raise their heads at once.
Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel / AP Photos
Zimmerman was wearing a suit and tie, rather than the prison jumpsuit he donned for his arraignment last week. But the suit was too big—he appeared to be wearing bulky body armor underneath it—and his hands were cuffed to a chain ringed around his waist. The overall effect was to make him look small and feeble.
In his first direct words to the family of Trayvon Martin, whom he shot and killed nearly two months ago, Zimmerman said softly but clearly, “I’m sorry for the loss of your son.”
Prosecutors say Zimmerman committed second-degree murder. His brief statement to the family did not acknowledge that he had pulled the trigger, nor did he say anything about what happened the night he shot the unarmed Martin, who had been walking home through Zimmerman’s housing complex.
After more than two hours of testimony and argument, Judge Kenneth Lester granted Zimmerman’s request for bond, although under tight conditions. He is expected to be released from custody on $150,000 bond in the next few days.
Martin’s mother and father, sitting in the second row behind the prosecutors’ table, had seemed tense throughout the hearing, and rushed from the courtroom after the decision. Their lawyer, Benjamin Crump, later said they were “devastated” by the decision to release Zimmerman on bond, and that Zimmerman’s apology was “self-serving.”
Much of the ground covered by the prosecution and defense on Friday morning was familiar to anyone following the case, but some new information emerged.
17-member task force does not include NRA members.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has created a 17-member task force to review the controversial Stand Your Ground law that many feel played a role in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin was shot and killed by self-appointed neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Feb. 26, and Zimmerman has said he acted in self-defense under the Stand Your Ground law. Similar defenses have been used successfully by Floridians 130 times since the law was passed in 2005. The task force includes elected officials and community leaders—but there is no representation from the NRA, which has been a major supporter of the law.
Apologizes to Trayvon’s family.
A Florida judge granted bail to George Zimmerman on Friday, but said the accused killer would not be released immediately. The judge set bail at $150,000 for Zimmerman, who faces second-degree murder charges in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman apologized to the teen’s parents for the “loss of their child.” George Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie Zimmerman, testified by phone that her husband is “absolutely not a violent person.” As a condition of his release, Zimmerman will wear GPS monitoring. His release date is unknown.
Facing second-degree murder charges, the man who confessed to shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin sought bail Friday. Watch live video of the proceedings.
With George Zimmerman, proposed by his lawyer.
The lawyer for Trayvon Martin’s family announced Thursday that they turned down a personal meeting with George Zimmerman proposed by his lawyer, Mark O’Mara. Natalie Jackson, the lawyer, said that she received a phone call from Mr. O’Mara but the family opted out, deciding to only discuss the case with officials and the media. Zimmerman could be out of jail as early as Friday if Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. grants his bail request. Zimmerman’s attorneys are expected to argue that the shooter is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, even though he was arrested for assaulting an officer in 2005.
In exclusive reporting from Sanford, Fla., Aram Roston offers a new inside account of what Zimmerman told police after the shooting.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect the court's decision on Friday, Apr. 20, to release Zimmerman on $150,000 bail.
Last December, George Zimmerman hosted a small gathering at a clubhouse in Lake Mary, Fla. He invited family members and some close friends, and he made a brief speech. He wanted to share with them, he said, the news that he’d earned his associate’s degree in criminal justice.
“He gathered us all together,” said a family friend who lives near Zimmerman’s parents and was present at the clubhouse that night, “to thank us for helping us define his life and what path he was going to take and who he was.”
The friend, who asked not to be identified, told The Daily Beast that he and his wife pulled Zimmerman aside afterward and asked him about his career: what did he want to do with his life? Zimmerman responded that he had a specific goal. First, he would go to law school. After that, the friend said, “his ambition was to be a judge.”
Now Zimmerman is wearing a gray prison jumpsuit instead of black robes, as he faces second-degree murder charges in the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was walking home through the housing complex where Zimmerman served as a neighborhood-watch captain.
On Friday, Apr. 20, Zimmerman was granted bail in the amount of $150,000, and will be released shortly, subject to certain conditions including electronic and GPS monitoring.
As the legal case against Zimmerman begins to grind forward, The Daily Beast has learned new details about Zimmerman’s accounts to various police agencies in the moments and days after the shooting. A law-enforcement source familiar with Zimmerman’s account but not directly involved in the case, said that in his statement to police, he said Martin’s final words after being shot were, “Okay, you got it.”
Neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman said he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed.
The man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin has a whole new set of problems after the court found out he lied at his bond hearing, writes Mansfield Frazier.
George Zimmerman took the stand during his bond hearing Friday, issuing a statement to the Martin family. ‘I’m sorry for the loss of your son,’ he told the court before answering a series of questions about the case.
Chaz Guest captures the Trayvon Martin tragedy. He talks about honoring Martin's legacy.
Conservatives are using the teenager’s tweets, hoodie, and school suspension to blame him for his own death—and to show that racism was not a factor, says Michelle Goldberg.
George Zimmerman, the man who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, aspired to enter law enforcement.