Legal Speaks Home Debbie Hines Bio Blog TV Clips Practice Areas Res Ipsa Loquitur Links Contact
Blog Home

Archive for July, 2013

Why Zimmerman Juror B-29 Should Have Remained Silent

Thursday, July 25th, 2013


trayvon_martin_zimmermanThe George Zimmerman jury spoke first on July 13, 2013 and now the lone minority juror, B-29, speaks out for the first time in a July 25, interview with Robin Roberts and blames the law as the sole  reason for the not guilty verdict, in what perhaps,  appears to be an effort to assuage and appease her guilty conscience.  Many African Americans waited to hear, if B-29 would speak, and now that she has given an interview, she only adds insult and fuel to the fiery feelings in the black community about the injustice of the verdict.

Juror B 29, a mother of 8 children, was new to Florida and lived in Chicago at the time of the killing of Trayvon Martin. In an effort to explain the verdict, she tells Robin Roberts that her first vote was for guilty for 2nd degree murder but as the deliberations wore on, she could not find anything in the law to support her verdict.  She says there was a lack of evidence. And that’s where her story strays and  leaves out some important details.

First, the jurors are bound to apply the law to the facts.  And as jurors, they can discard some testimony and believe other testimony.  And they cannot make assumptions but they can use their common sense.  In order for the jury to find George Zimmerman not guilty of either 2nd degree murder or manslaughter, the jury must find Zimmerman’s various versions and major inconsistencies to be credible and other state witnesses’ to be non-credible. And juror B-29 who is a mother of 8 children should know better than anyone that when children lie, it’s because they either don’t want to tell the truth or have something to hide. That goes ditto for adults.

In reviewing the evidence and testimony, the jurors, including B 29 had to discard the testimony of Rachel Jeantell, Trayvon Martin’s friend, Selma Mora, the Hispanic neighbor who heard “the child” screaming  and three other neighbors who  along with Mora, saw Trayvon Martin on the bottom with George Zimmerman straddling and hitting  him.  B-29  apparently believed neighbor John Goode, the only neighbor who testified to seeing Trayvon Martin on top of George Zimmerman.  And the jurors had to believe that Trayvon Martin did not have a right to defend himself against a man who had been suspiciously following him while he was en route home.

There  were so many inconsistencies in the various versions that George Zimmerman told depending on to whom and when he was speaking.  He told a different version to his best friend, Mark Osterman who wrote a book of Zimmerman’s account than he did to the police detectives. He told   Osterman that Trayvon Martin touched his gun but to the detectives, a different version emerged. To Sean Hannity, Zimmerman knew nothing about Stand Your Ground but to his professor, he was the best student in an extensive course on Stand Your Ground.  According to Zimmerman, his head was hit against concrete 25 times but he refused to go to the doctor’s or hospital for treatment. And Detective Serino testified that he believed the injuries were exaggerated because he wasn’t  hurt that bad. Zimmerman did not recognize his voice on the 911 tape as the screams saying it didn’t sound like him.

It is difficult to find juror B-29 to be believable  when she says the verdict was based on the law and the case lacked evidence.  She left out that they applied the law to the facts. And to find that the defendant was not guilty of manslaughter or murder meant they believed George Zimmerman’s factual account, although she didn’t say which account they believed.

But for juror B-29 to blame the jury instructions as the reason for the verdict is quite frankly, disingenuous.  B-29 clearly did not understand the  definition of manslaughter which did not require any intent to kill as she states in her interview.   She says they couldn’t find any intent to kill. The jury instructions read in part on manslaughter were: “In order to convict of manslaughter by act, it is not necessary for the State to prove that George Zimmerman had an intent to cause death, only an intent to commit an act that was not merely negligent, or excusable which caused death.”  Juror B -29 who refers to herself as “Maddy” did not succumb to the jury instructions  or lack of evidence but ultimately sided with the other 5 jurors after deliberating for 15 hours, most of it on day 2.

Juror B-29 would have been better to remain silent, if she was not going to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Juror B-29, like George Zimmerman, left out some  important parts of the story.


Zimmerman Jurors Allowed Unsupervised Family Time During Trial

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

TrayvonMartinHoodedFrom strict Stand Your Ground laws to a strict judge overseeing the Zimmerman trial working long hours and weekends and nights, the Zimmerman trial jury sequestration rules were anything but strict  and allowed for unsupervised visits of up to two hours with family and friends during the weekends. According to an agreement obtained by WFTV and their reporter, Kathy Belich, after the trial concluded,  Judge Nelson entered into an agreement allowing for unsupervised visits meaning  alone time with family for up to two hours. Unsupervised means  that potentially anything could be said  or read without a sheriff or court personnel present during the visits.  More disturbing is the fact that the media and public were not made aware of the arrangement during the trial. All that was known during the trial was the jurors would be away from their family during the trial.

The secrecy and undisclosed agreement during the trial is but one more insult to what many believe is an unjust verdict.  If the jurors were allowed visits of two minutes, it would have been enough to taint the verdict. Two minutes is sufficient to sway a juror’s mind with a comment from a close family member. Now, presumably, the jurors were told to refrain from discussing the case or anything about the trial. And as we saw in court, jurors were always reminded of the instructions each time the court took a recess.

The secrecy on the limits of sequestration found only after the trial concluded only adds fuel to an already burning fire that the jury verdict was tainted. It started with the not guilty verdict, continued to juror B37’s TV interview and now this stunning and new revelation of unsupervised family time. Many African Americans who are distrustful of the criminal justice system working in their favor have one more example to show how the process can be compromised. And the fact that the sequestration agreement was not known to the media during the trial, although everything except bench conferences were live streamed, further leads to a more than bad taste in some people’s mouths.

The revelation of unsupervised family visits will not change the verdict. George Zimmerman cannot be re-tried. Double jeopardy disallows it.  There are rules against juror misconduct. It’s unlikely that any family members will come forward to say they discussed the case. But with juror B37’s TV interview and possible book deal with her lawyer husband, just hours after the verdict, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to think that discussions did occur and possibly before the verdict.

The shroud of secrecy around the sequestration agreement further darkens an already dark moment in the outcome of the Zimmerman trial for many African Americans. Florida Stand Your Ground laws and judges, like Judge Nelson, can be strict when they want to be and relaxed when they should be strict. I previously applauded Judge Nelson’s presiding over the trial except she failed in perhaps, the most important function of the Zimmerman trial, jury sequestration.

Pres. Obama Delivers the Right Touch on Trayvon Martin

Saturday, July 20th, 2013


Since last week’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, many African Americans have waited to hear President Obama deliver a more definitive statement to express, explain and engage conversation about the sad, stunning and shocking verdict for many persons who supported justice for Trayvon Martin. And on Friday, July 19, President Obama delivered a heartfelt expression with the right touch for what many blacks feel about the verdict. It was not a statement coming from a former law professor but one coming from a black man who has felt his own  racial sting of being a black man and being profiled like Trayvon Martin. His speech was said without a teleprompter, advance notice and mostly done without notes.

President Obama  began by saying… “when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.  Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

For me as an African American woman, having the President address the issues entwined and entangled in the Trayvon Martin case gave some solace that as a President, he feels the collective pain of African Americans and wanted to address it. And more importantly, he knows the system is rigged against many blacks for many reasons. He addressed the fact that blacks are not walking around with blinders on and failing to see black on black crime. But presumably, he did that more for the hearing of well-meaning or conservative whites who, through social media, bring up that issue in the context of Trayvon Martin. President Obama addressed the inequities of race in America and tried to soothe blacks’ collective pain. He gave hope  by affirming that America has come a long way but  he stated we must do better.  And he reiterated,  we will learn lessons from Trayvon’s case  and move in a positive direction to address them.

I scoured Twitter for comments on the speech. And as expected, they were all over the board. Most African Americans felt President Obama did a good job of expressing the collective frustration of a people who despite whatever heights are reached, blacks are always reminded in moments like the Zimmerman verdict, that America’s justice system does not always bend in our direction, from racial profiling, death penalty disparity and crack cocaine sentencing disparity to a not guilty verdict for the shooting death of an innocent teen walking home.  I know that race issues are a dialog that we, as a country, need and must have. But, yesterday’s speech was a recognition and a beginning dialog from the President of these United States, that blacks are not equal in the eyes of many Americans and the criminal justice system.

Hearing the President personalize the statements made it all the more genuine. And even in those genuine moments, there were online comments from some who felt that President Obama did not understand the black experience because he attended private school and was raised by a white mother. To those who feel that way, that’s all the more reasons that we  need to dialog on race. African Americans and particularly black men, regardless of their status in life, know that race matters in America.  And in an earlier article, “Travon Martins are Everywhere”, I wrote about the racial profiling issues affecting actor Forest Whitaker, Harvard Professor Louis “Skip” Gates,  former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele and my brother. Too bad, white men cannot walk in the shoes and skin of a black man for one day.  They would learn that racial profiling is not just a fantasy.  It’s a reality for all black men, at some time in their life, including President Barack Obama.

Thank you President Obama for addressing what needed to be said, in light of the Trayvon Martin case and verdict.

His full speech can be read  here for those who missed it and here  for those who just want to see it again.

Trayvon was not a Suspect but Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is One

Friday, July 19th, 2013

TrayvonMartinHoodedRolling Stone’s, soon to be released August 1, front cover depicting  19 year old bomb suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev  represents a falsehood, that  many people accept as true in  that someone with a face like Tsarnaev could not be a killer, bomber or terrorist.  But, in viewing the face of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager, just two years younger than Tsarnaev, many persons see the worst and suspect him of looking suspicious or doing something wrong to cause his own death.  

Tsarnaev’s  image represents, for many persons, the all American innocent college boy image.  And Rolling Stone intends to reveal how a “popular, promising student” turned into a terrorist.  Many Americans fail to believe that terrorists could live next door to us, attend college with us, play sports with us, have dinner and drinks with us and look like Tsarnaev.  

Yet, in viewing the face of Trayvon Martin, many persons failed to accept the truth that Trayvon was not a suspect, as George Zimmerman referred to him.  Many persons, including possibly those on the George Zimmerman jury, did not view Trayvon Martin as someone’s child who might also be promising and popular, attend college, play sports and games, eat candy and have fun.  For some, they only saw him like George Zimmerman viewed him as a suspicious person and “up to no good.” Our perception and vision is confused and clouded when it comes to those looking like Trayvon Martin or  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.   

Many persons, including attorney Mark O’Mara are saying that Trayvon Martin was responsible for his own death, like he was the one on trial.  No one is blaming the Boston bombing victims for running the Boston Marathon or attending the event to watch their friends and family run it, for standing too close to the bomber or for causing their injuries or death. Everyone recognizes that the three persons,   including one child, who lost their lives and the over 200 others who endured unthinkable injuries, are victims and are not responsible for their injuries or deaths.  Many people fail to accept the truth that Trayvon Martin was a victim. Trayvon Martin was not a suspect, burglar or thief.  He did not commit any crimes.

The benefit of a doubt is most often always given to young white males who look like Tsarnaev but not to young black males who look like Trayvon Martin.  Trayvon Martin, like Tsarnaev appeared on the cover of a magazine—People’s Magazine on April 9, 2012. And even as his photograph appeared on People’s cover, there were many persons through comments  who would dispute the image insisting it was not a current depiction of Trayvon Martin.  For some, he looked too young and innocent, an unacceptable image of young black males for many whites.

We will know racism has ended in America when Americans accept the truth that every black man is not a suspect and that a white man could also be one. When we deny one falsehood and accept the truth of the other one, we will have finally overcome racism. 

Trayvon Martin was not a suspect but Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is one.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who often appears in the media addressing issues of race and gender in the law.   As a former prosecutor, she tried murders, rapes, burglaries, robberies, and narcotic and sex crimes.  She founded LegalSpeaks blog in 2009.   Debbie can be frequently seen on Fox 5 News, CBS affiliate WUSA 9, Arise TV and on RT America with Thom Hartmann’s The Big Picture.  Her commentaries appear in the Women’s Media Center and Huffington Post.


Trayvon Martins are Everywhere

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013


African Americans  who are perceived to look suspicious and  be “up to no good”,  like George Zimmerman accused Trayvon Martin,  come in all forms  from  Oscar Award winning  51 year old actor, Forest Whitaker,  who was detained, frisked and wrongfully accused of stealing from  Morningside Heights, a New York City gourmet deli  in February, 2013  to  renowned Harvard Professor Louis “Skip Gates, Jr. who was arrested at his own home in Cambridge, Ma  on July 16, 2009 for suspicious activity of men breaking and entering a residence.

Regardless of whether you wear a hoodie or not, come from the hood or are a renowned black actor or Harvard Professor, most African Americans have had some “crash” moment where they realize they are being negatively judged by the color of their skin for appearing suspicious.  Regardless of one’s degrees, awards or cultural status, if a white person suspects a black man of suspicious activity, he could be charged, arrested, convicted or even killed for doing nothing, like Trayvon Martin. That thought was in my mind over a year ago, when my brother called me for help during a medical emergency while driving.  He saw a police officer and asked me if he should flag down the officer. I instinctively told him “no” because I feared he would not receive medical attention but might be arrested for suspicious activity. His size of being over 6’1” tall and weighing over 250 lbs plus his race targets him for suspicious activity.

Profiling African Americans for suspicious behavior when no crime has occurred is not new but killing an unarmed child brings it to new levels.  And it crosses even political party lines.  I attended a Race in America symposium in Washington, DC this year where I heard former Republican National Committee Chair, Michael Steele, tell the story that he tells his son.  He lets his son know that when he leaves the confines of his affluent Maryland neighborhood, he is no longer the son of Michael Steele to the world but a very large and tall young black male who may be viewed with suspicion and presumably “up to no good” based on his  looks alone.


On an everyday basis doing everyday tasks, blacks are regarded as appearing suspicious. For instance, when trying to get a cab in Washington, DC, according to a May, 2013 investigative report by WUSA 9’s investigative reporter Russ Ptacek, taxi cabs are 25% less likely to pick up black passengers. In some instances, cabs will make U turns to pick up white passengers immediately after refusing to pick up a black passenger, according to the report, conducted in May, 2013.

And the failure of cabs to pick up black passengers in Washington, DC is nothing compared to the stop and frisks in New York where the New York Police Department’s practice of stop and frisk amounts to the police stopping more than 4 million for street interrogations since 2002 with the vast majority being black and Latino. In 2011, almost 700,000 people were stopped, with the majority being African American and Latino. And in nine out of ten stops, those minorities stopped are completely innocent of any crime, according to the NYPD ‘s own reports. These practices are currently being challenged as racial profiling and an invasion of privacy rights of law abiding minorities.

In New York, there is a license for the police to stop and frisk any black person who they perceive as looking suspicious and “up to no good” whatever those phrases mean, in regards to African Americans. And in Florida, there is now a license to stop, shoot and kill any unarmed black person who appears suspicious and “up to no good” as long as you Stand Your Ground. Unfortunately, most blacks have at some time, whether they knew it or not, probably looked suspicious and “up to no good” to a white person.  Trayvon Martins are everywhere.

Post Script:  This article was revised on July 17, 2013

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who often appears in the media addressing issues of race and gender in the law. As a former prosecutor, she tried murders, rapes, burglaries, robberies, narcotic and sex crimes. She founded LegalSpeaks blog in 2009. Debbie can be frequently seen on Fox 5 News, WUSA 9 and on RT America with Thom Hartmann’s The Big Picture.

What Went Wrong with the Zimmerman Trial

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

GeorgeZimmermanCourtPicThe not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial shocked, stunned and saddened me on some many levels. Many people have criticized the prosecutors in how the Zimmerman case was tried. As a former prosecutor, there were tactics used that I did not agree with. But there is no one way to try a circumstantial murder case where no one witness can identify exactly what happened. But with all the conflicting different stories and lies that George Zimmerman told depending on who was the listener, there was ample evidence to find him guilty of manslaughter, beyond a reasonable doubt. Second degree murder was going to be an uphill battle due to the intent of ill will, malice or a depraved mind under the Florida statute, which was not present in manslaughter.

So everyone asks what went wrong in this case. And you would have to go back to the beginning on the night of February 26, 2012 to answer that question. The Sanford police put the case at jeopardy when they refused to charge George Zimmerman with murder for killing 17 year old Trayvon Martin. It was only due to pressure from civil rights groups that brought about a special prosecutor and charges being filed 44 days after the murder. So, that was the first thing that went wrong with the case. The failure of the police to charge Zimmerman probably caused at least one juror during deliberations to reflect on the “rioting”, as she referred to the peaceful protests during jury selection.

Judge Debra Nelson refused to allow the prosecutors to call the case what it was “racial profiling”, as if that might hurt the feelings of the citizens of Sanford. The entire theory of the State’s case was compromised when they were not allowed to discuss the pink elephant on the night of February 26, 2012. The case was all about race. Yes, it was that simple. John Guy tried to make the subtle point in his final closing argument, asking jurors to give the same verdict to George Zimmerman that they would give if Trayvon Martin were the one on trial. Obviously, they chose to ignore that comment.

Judge Nelson and one prior judge refused to order a gag order, which would have prevented the defense attorneys from trying the case in the media. The defense team went on a national media tour for no other reason that to poison the potential already conservative jurors. And then to top it all off, the defendant’s father wrote a book that was published shortly before the trial on how the true racists were the NAACP and other like groups—not his son.

And then there’s the little problem called jury selections when two jurors whom the state struck were allowed to sit on the jury, after the defense objected to the strikes. I am not privy to why the state wanted to exclude them but I will assume it was due to possible prejudicial reasons.

Then there was evidence that was excluded from the trial about Zimmerman’s prior propensity for violence. We will not know why the undercover police officer that Zimmerman assaulted in 2005 did not testify. The charges were later dropped. That may have helped the jury to see that Zimmerman could not only hurt a fly, he could assault a police officer.

Yet, in the end, none of this may have made a difference. In the final analysis, Zimmerman’s defense team was allowed to try and convict Trayvon Martin for the alleged crime of being a black teenager while walking at night. And in America, that is a dangerous crime, in the eyes of many white Americans. Perception is everything. And the perception by this jury was that apparently Trayvon Martin, a black male teenager who was on his way home with candy and ice tea, when he was followed by a “creepy ass cracker”, was the likely aggressor.

The National Bar president John E. Page says: The fact is the jury delivered a not guilty verdict. The TRUTH is justice has not been served.” And unfortunately, the sad reality is if Trayvon Martin had been white, it would have been an entirely different verdict. Zimmerman would have been convicted of one of the charges. I am still shocked and stunned that a jury of 6 women could not apply their common sense and find the defendant guilty of manslaughter. But I know these six women jurors’ reality, perception and common sense are not the same as mine—an African American woman.