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Three Women Who Will Determine Zimmerman’s Fate

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

trayvon_martin_zimmermanThe three women who will determine the fate for George Zimmerman are white, black and Hispanic women who do not sit on the jury, sit on the judge’s bench or in the prosecutors’ or defense attorneys’ chairs.  They are Selma Mora, Jenna Lauer and Rachel Jeantel who  testified from their different perspectives but when viewed collectively together as a whole will seal the fate of George Zimmerman.

The Zimmerman trial has been all about women  from the beginning with Special Prosecutor Angela Corey bringing the charges to Judge Debra Nelson hearing the case  and deciding the motions and rulings and of  course, the six all women jurors who will ultimately render  the verdict.   The most compelling evidence when viewed as a whole may have already occurred.  Looking at the case on a day by day basis does not give an accurate view when dissecting each individual’s testimony.  No one person’s testimony stands alone.  They are all pieces of a greater puzzle that when  pieced together will yield the final results.  And the greater pieces of the puzzle may have already been placed.

Selma Mora is the Hispanic neighbor who gave her testimony in Spanish through an interpreter.   In her emotional tone, she spoke of seeing Trayvon Martin on the bottom being beaten by George Zimmerman.  She testifies to seeing Zimmerman get up after Trayvon was shot. And Mora’s testimony in Spanish will presumably resonate well with the one Hispanic juror who herself has children.  Mora is the third witness to testify that Zimmerman was on the top of Trayvon Martin.

Jenna Lauer, another neighbor testified about hearing the commotion outside her house. She called 911 and because of her call, the desperate cries and screams for help are heard.  And those cries and screams stop and fall silent when Zimmerman’s gun is shot.  The jury will have the tape in evidence of Lauer’s call to replay during deliberations. It is expected that Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother will testify that those screams are the voice of her son.

 

The 911 operator  was heard asking Zimmerman if he was following Trayvon Martin. And she unequivocally  stated that the police didn’t need for him to follow.  And we further know that he followed and  pursued Trayvon Martin by the testimony of Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon Martin’s friend on the phone who discussed back and forth with Trayvon about the “creepy” person who continued to follow and watch him.   While Jeantel’s testimony has been dissected on her looks, attitude and for inconsistencies and lies, she never  changed her account of Zimmerman following Trayvon Martin. It is further corroborating evidence along with the 911 operator.

And even though another neighbor, John  Good, contradicted Mora’s testimony by recalling seeing Zimmerman on the bottom, he did not support Zimmerman’s version that Trayvon Martin was viciously  pounding his head to the cement as he cried out for help until  he had to shoot in self- defense.  That stand- alone version so far is only given by Zimmerman in his prior statements.   And Good’s testimony, who stated that Trayvon was on the top pounding away in mixed martial arts style, was discredited or at least questioned by Zimmerman’s own doctor’s office. Medical assistant, Lindzi Folgate, who treated Zimmerman before and after the incident, said that he had been training “intensively” in mixed martial arts for three weeks before the incident.

The trial has only been going on for one week with testimony.  But the fate of George Zimmerman may have already been sealed with three diverse women’s testimony who support the prosecution’s case.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a practicing trial lawyer and former prosecutor.  She is a legal expert in criminal law, high profile criminal cases and the legal system, having tried murders, rapes, assaults, burglaries, robberies and sex crimes with a high conviction rate.  As a civil trial attorney, she has represented clients in court rooms across the country. 

 

Rachel Jeantel’s Testimony in Zimmerman Trial Speaks Volumes

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

 

rachel-jeantel-george-zimmerman-trial-1Rachel Jeantel’s testimony, a key witness in the George Zimmerman trial and the last person to speak to Trayvon Martin, speaks volumes about the Zimmerman defense and race and gender attitudes in America. Her testimony is a teaching moment on issues of grief, guilt, race, gender, class, education, obesity, beauty, and plain common sense, if only we will listen.

Rachel Jeantel’s testimony is seen as crucial to the prosecution. She is the young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin when he noticed that George Zimmerman was following him, whom he described as a “creepy ass cracker”. She stated that she and Trayvon had continued discussions about Zimmerman, who continued to follow and watch him. Jeantel thought he might have been a “rapist” since he kept looking at Trayvon. She testifies about how Trayvon Martin tried to get away but told Jeantel that “he’s behind me”. And she testified that Trayvon was close to his house when she lost contact with him via telephone.

And here’s the first teaching moment of her testimony. Defense attorney, Don West asked her if Trayvon might have been lying about his location. Her response was he didn’t need to lie about that and “that’s real retarded, sir”. And Ms. Jeantel, while not quite articulate in her statement, suggests that one would have to suspend one’s sense of reason and common sense to believe the defense’s theory. The defense wants the jury to believe that Trayvon Martin decided to attack a man that he was concerned about following him. That defies common sense or is “retarded” in Ms. Jeantel’s words. The jury will have to decide the case beyond a reasonable doubt. To believe the defense’s theory that a 17 year old teenage boy who was concerned about Zimmerman’s “creepy” continued pursuit of him, would have turned and then pursued Zimmerman defies reason. While Jeantel’s use of the word “retarded” to describe the defense’s scenario may not have been as articulate as some would like to hear, it fully expresses that the defense’s theory is a sick one.

Ms. Jeantel’s testimony has issues of credibility if the jury is to believe her. She lied about being in the hospital as the reason for not attending Trayvon Martin’s wake and funeral. On the witness stand, she testified that she did not want to see the body of her friend. She lied about her age—stating she was 16, when she was 18. She gave inconsistent accounts of the events in a letter to Trayvon’s parents and in a deposition to the family attorney, Ben Crump. She made up a name at one time. But, she never stryaed from her testimony that Zimmerman was following her friend, Trayvon. If one is to believe her, they do not have to suspend their sense of reality. They only need to apply her statements to reality. Some of her testimony speaks volumes about grief and grieving. Often, when students die, many school districts have grief counselors on hand to deal with the issue of death, dying, grief and often accompanying guilt. Ms. Jeantel was grieving the loss of a friend whom she knew since second grade. And in emotionally describing the events on the witness stand over a year late, she wept. Jeantel is still grieving.

Rachel Jeantel was eighteen years old at the time of the incident. The law says that eighteen is the legal age of majority. For those who have ever been eighteen, it’s easy to see how one fluctuates between adulthood, childhood and being a teenager. Eighteen is the age of majority but not the coming of age of adulthood in mentality—at all times. Jeantel was still in high school. The women on the jury, particularly at least two who have teenage children, should be able to reconcile her actions with her age. Jeantel was in an adult world in a teenage mentality.

Reconciling her demeanor, race, appearance and gender is far more difficult for some people to do. Going online, I was appalled at the comments on her size, appearance and speech which amounted to the unspoken race, class and gender issues. Jeantel’s testimony, even if fully articulate and without any inconsistencies, would still cause issues for many people who perceive and judge her as a dark skinned, overweight, obese, inarticulate, uneducated black woman which negatively codes as dumb, dark and black for some persons. The jurors will also need to face their bias in assessing her credibility.

Rachel Jeantel is not unintelligent as some online comments suggest. She speaks Spanish, Creole and English and was smart enough to know  the defense theory is “retarded”.  Rachel Jeantel speaks volumes to America about issues of grief, guilt, race, gender, class, education, obesity and beauty, if only we will listen.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial attorney and former prosecutor who frequently appears in the media discussing the intersection of race and gender in the law. Having prosecuted murders, rapes, burglaries, robberies and economic crimes with a high conviction rate, she is an expert in criminal law cases, high profile criminal cases and the complexities and nuances of the criminal justice system.

Dissecting the Zimmerman Trial

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Angela Corey, Special Prosecutor

Angela Corey, Special Prosecutor

Monday, June 24th marked the first day of opening statements in the George Zimmerman trial.  Last week concluded with an all women jury.   In court circles, an all women jury is quite an anomaly.   And that’s not the only one so far in the case.  The second anomaly occurred during the defense’s opening statements when the defense attorney tried to tell a joke to the jury.  There’s no place for humor in a murder trial.  One person was killed and the other person, the defendant, is in jeopardy of losing his life in prison.  I am clueless as to why a joke was inserted in the beginning of West’s opening—right after he said that it was a tragic case involving two grieving families. 

Everyone in legal circles is dissecting the all- female jury and wondering which side will benefit from this rarity.  And there’s no way at this point to tell which side the jury will ultimately favor.  At this juncture, it does appear that this jury favors the defense.  And that’s primarily because the women who make up the jury appear more conservative which in this case means more leaning towards the defense.  One woman juror referred to the peaceful protests to arrest George Zimmerman as “rioting”.  Two women on the jury were stricken by the prosecutor only to end up on the jury when their strikes were successfully challenged by the defense.    One woman who has adolescent children told her children that this case is an example of what happens if you go out at night.   She seems to imply that somehow Trayvon Martin was at fault for going to the convenience store on that fateful night.  The sole minority, a Hispanic woman, is one who appears favorable for the state. She has several children and rarely watches news, preferring reality shows.  She will bring a different perspective than those who have lived in Seminole County for a long time. 

The opening statements are an opportunity for each side to present to the jury what their evidence will show.  The prosecution’s opening was a little over 30 minutes and discussed their key points.   John  Guy, the assistant state’s attorney, told the jury that the state will prove that George Zimmerman profiled, pursued and then killed Trayvon Martin. He started out saying the words that Zimmerman said about Trayvon when he initially made the  911 call to the police, calling Trayvon a f— punk and later an asshole.   Guy ended by saying that Zimmerman killed him –not due to self- defense.  He killed him because he wanted to kill him.  He promised the jury would be able to convict at the conclusion of the trial based on their head, their heart and their stomach.  

The defense’s prosecution scored a major point but was more than two hours long and included  an  intermission.   Speaking that long in a monotone and technical fashion probably bored the jurors out of their minds.  Even Judge Nelson had to remind West the purpose of an opening statement—to lay out   the evidence.   The judge inferred that defense attorney West was confusing opening statement with closing argument.  The one point that West scored successfully was that Trayvon’s father denied the cries and screams were his son. Without the testimony of the audio experts, the screams heard on the 911 call are a key element of the trial, in determining if self-defense is available.

Most interesting in case is the judge’s decision to bar the words “racial profiling”.  The prosecution was allowed to only say profiling. And the judge’s attempt to sterilize the racial component in the case did not deter the defense from getting in an implied racial stereotypes in their opening.    West discussed the size of Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. He talked about how Zimmerman had physically worked out at a gym and lost weight but was not considered athletic. On the other hand, he spoke about the athleticism and strength of Trayvon Martin, as if it was the teenage Incredible Hulk.   Those subtle nuances are how the defense is attempting to invoke the race card to their favor.

In the coming two plus weeks, there will be many twists and turns. Stay tuned here for future developments as they occur.

Washington, Dc based Debbie Hines is a practicing trial lawyer and former prosecutor.  She often appears in the media discussing issues of race and gender in the law and key legal cases.  

Did Pre-Trial Publicity Pollute The Zimmerman Jury Pool?

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

trayvon_martin_zimmerman

 

As the jury selections continue for a second week in the George Zimmerman trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin, the pre-trial publicity is front and center in the process.  During the first week of the trial, prospective jurors were questioned on their knowledge of the case through their information received in the media.  One juror indicated that she did not have cable or Internet. Most others had varying degrees of knowledge of the case and some have preconceived notions about the case through print, online, TV and radio.  To date, 29 prospective jurors have passed the first hurdle in the process and will move on to round two.  According to the Associated Press, of the 29,  19 are white; six are black; two are Hispanic; one is Asian-American; and one describes himself as mixed race. Judge Debra Nelson wants 40 prospective jurors to continue on to round 2 and to further traditional jury questioning.  Ultimately, 6 jurors and 4 alternates will be chosen.

 

The knowledge that the prospective jurors have gleamed from the pre-trial publicity varies from minimal to substantial.   Of interest to note are some points that stand out among the jurors’ answers.  The most interesting comments surround whether the killing was “accidental” or a “mistake”, negative remarks about Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the rallies held in Sanford and across the country and issues surrounding Trayvon Martin.

 

Several themes can be found in some of the potential Zimmerman trial jurors’ comments.  The race issue is not sitting well with a number of them.  Some do not believe that race is a factor in the case, including white and black jurors.  And more distressing is the fact that several potential jurors are referring to the killing as an “accident”.  Several jurors are critical of Al Sharpton for raising the race issue, including B-35, a middle age black man and B-61 a young white woman.  Juror K-80 a middle age white woman found the racial overtones disturbing and called the killing a “terrible accident” as did P-67.  G-14, a middle age white woman, says the race discussion did not need to occur.  And B-37 referred to the peaceful rallies as “rioting”. K-95 a middle age white juror also was critical of the protests. And yet without the civil rights protests, there would not have been an investigation to bring charges against Zimmerman.

 

The pre-trial publicity campaign waged mostly by the Zimmerman defense ratcheted up the emotions that jurors held before the trial began.  It is not a coincidence that the Zimmerman defense did not request a change of venue.  Seminole County demographics are as good as it gets for the Zimmerman defense.

 

In viewing the jurors’ comments, it is noteworthy to review the demographics of Seminole County, the county where the town of Sanford, Florida sits and where the jury pool is located. It is through the eyes of those residing in Seminole County that the case will be decided.  Seminole County is an area that is made up of over 81% whites and an estimate of a low of 9% to a high 11% blacks with women making up more than 50% of the population according to Seminole County government and the US Census reports. The median income is $62,000 with over 25% of the population having a household income of over $100,000, according to Seminole County reports.  The majority of residents are registered Republicans but not by a large margin. The Seminole County demographics are reminiscent of the 1992 Rodney King trial held in Simi Valley located in Ventura County, California, an overwhelmingly white, middle-class suburb and majority Republican county which found the police not guilty of King’s beating.

 

 

And it is interesting to note that while some prospective jurors were critical of the effect of the case on their town of Sanford or held negative views towards Al Sharpton and the rallies held to arrest George Zimmerman, none seemed to take issue to any of the negative comments made by the defense about Trayvon Martin’s character—at least not as reported so far.  Unfortunately, some prospective jurors accept the defense’s view that race was not a factor and a “terrible accident” occurred. And so, fair and impartial may be in the eyes of the beholder.  It is left to be seen if the jurors will be fair and impartial and render a verdict based solely on the evidence or pre-trial publicity.

 

The Role in Race in the Trayvon Martin Case

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

For supporters of Trayvon Martin, race is everything in the Zimmerman trial.  For supporters of George Zimmerman, race is much ado about nothing.  Zimmerman’s supporters believe that he is being railroaded into a trial .  To say that the Zimmerman trial is not about race is like saying the O.J. Simpson or Rodney King beating cases had no racial overtones.  And one need only read the comments left on just about every article written about the case to come to the same conclusion that the case is about race.  The vitriol  and hate mongering that is being spewed at Trayvon Martin by the Zimmerman defense team to ratchet up support for George Zimmerman is despicable at times.  The attempts to smear a 17 year old who lost his life has everything to do with race and just about nothing to do with self defense as the defense claims.  As jury selections continued  on Tuesday, June 11, Debbie Hines appeared on The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann to discuss the role of race in the case.  The video clip follows below.

The Role of Women in the Trayvon Martin Case

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

angela-corey-zimmerman-charges-press-conference

Women will play a critical role in the murder trial of George Zimmerman.  From the judge, special prosecutor, jurors,  Travyon’s girlfriend identified only as witness number 8 and the quiet presence of Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, women will have a major impact  on the outcome of this case.  Beginning with Governor Rick Scott’s appointment of Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, women have been at the helm of this case.

 

Republican Governor Rick Scott assigned the case to Angela Corey to investigate last year after no immediate charges were filed against George Zimmerman.  Her team of lawyers conducted a thorough investigation. It was due to her diligent efforts and those of her office that second degree murder charges were finally filed.  And thus, the case against George Zimmerman began through the efforts of an aggressive yet compassionate woman.

State Prosecutor Angela Corey is known for being an advocate for victims and an aggressive prosecutor.  She has often been criticized for her aggressiveness.  According to sources, she has tried more than 50 homicides which is an extraordinary amount. She assigned two veteran prosecutors, Bernie de la Rionda and John Guy to the Zimmerman case.  She is still the captain of the ship.   Through the investigative efforts led by Angela Corey, the prosecution discovered that Zimmerman’s defense lied about his sources of income at his initial bail hearing. Due to Corey’s tenacious efforts,  Zimmerman was hauled back into court and ordered to jail, after initially being placed on bail.  He was later released on a much higher bail due to the findings of her investigation.

After numerous judges were removed at the defendant’s requests for various reasons, Judge Debra Nelson is now  the presiding judge over the case.   And she has shown that she’s a no-nonsense, hardworking and thorough judge.  She has repeatedly denied the defense’s requests to further delay the trial beyond the June 10 trial date.  Judge Nelson has also repeatedly denied the prosecution’s requests for a gag order.  And she has ruled with a swift and stern hand on pre-trial issues in the case.  Judge Nelson has so far denied the defense’s request to portray Trayvon Martin as an alleged gun wielding, school missing, fighting thug through social media photos and phone texts, as having no bearing on the issues in the case.  Judge Nelson heard continued motions on the Saturday before  the start of the trial. Holding court in session  on  Saturday  is rare for any judge to do.  Court is rarely held on Saturdays.  Most judges would have deferred the hearing until Monday rather than continue on Saturday.  Judge Nelson is not an ordinary judge.

And perhaps the most crucial women will be the women jurors sitting on the case. Both sides are focused on the jurors deemed best to decide the case. Often times, older white men are considered more conservative and better jurors for the prosecution’s side in a murder case. But this case is different.  They may actually be better for the defense. The killing of an unarmed  17 year old African American teenager may evoke the sympathies of women who are mothers, sisters or aunts who have sons, brothers or nephews.  While sympathy is not to be considered as a factor in ever deciding or reaching a verdict, jurors still do not set aside their feelings once inside the court room. While the make- up of the jurors is not yet known, women jurors would  probably be more likely to support the state’s case against Zimmerman.  There are many factors that go into selecting jurors such as the questions that are answered on the jury questionnaire, occupation, age, education, race and perceived bias-one way or another.  Gender is but one factor that may have a huge impact on the outcome.

A young woman who is being identified as witness no. 8 is the person who was talking to Trayvon Martin on his cell phone as he was being followed by George Zimmerman.  Trayvon told her that he was being followed.  Moments before the call dropped,  she recalls hearing Trayvon ask Zimmerman why was he following him.  She will be one of the most important witnesses to watch.

And lastly the quiet presence of Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, in the court room each day will speak volumes.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  Perhaps, the woman with the most words will be the one who will not speak  during the trial.  A mother in the court room grieving the loss of her teenage son will speak volumes.

No matter what the outcome, women will play a vital role in the George Zimmerman trial.

Debbie Hines is a practicing trial lawyer and former prosecutor who frequently appears in the media as a legal commentator addressing legal issues at the intersection of gender and race in crime.