The Trayvon Martin Trial: A Case of What Ifs
In less than one month, the second degree murder trial of George Zimmerman is scheduled to begin on June 10. And already the city of Sanford, Florida is expecting huge crowds on both sides of the case—those in support of George Zimmerman and those who support Trayvon Martin. It is being seen as a case of huge race and class proportions based on what transpired or did not happen on the night of the murder. If George Zimmerman had been arrested on the night of the murder of Trayvon Martin, this case would more than likely have generated very little publicity. It would be a murder trial of the killing of a 17 year old by a neighborhood watch person.
By allowing George Zimmerman to remain free until April 11, 2012 following the February 26th murder of Trayvon Martin, this trial now has huge racial overtones. In those 44 days, a public outcry occurred in the mainstream media and online due to the killing of Trayvon Martin, a young black male, who was walking in a gated community with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea, en route to the residence of his father’s fiancé. Without the large lapse of time before the arrest, there would not be the sensational trial that is about to begin. So what we will now experience is a trial of national racial proportions, an O.J. Simpson case in reverse. And what should be on trial is a second degree murder of an unarmed 17 year old walking with a bag of Skittles and carrying iced tea, killed by a neighborhood watch person. The race and class implications would still exist, even if Zimmerman had been immediately arrested, related to the seemingly unwarranted suspicion created just by a young black male walking in a gated community.
A lot of potential evidence has been leaked through the media. Yet, the trial has not begun and much of what has been leaked may never be presented to a jury. Only two people really know what happened on the night of the murder but only one is alive; And Zimmerman, the remaining living one, and his defense team will attempt to portray the victim, someone he never met before, as an aggressive teenager who was out to kill him, if he didn’t kill him first. Zimmerman will undoubtedly assert that he cried out for help fearing for his life before shooting Trayvon Martin in self-defense.
The trial may have its share of side show issues in the way of school records, use of marijuana by the victim, school discipline issues, Facebook postings, character faults and virtues of the victim and defendant. Marijuana will be in evidence because it is contained in the autopsy report. And the State’s medical examiner will testify about his toxicological findings. Character of the victim will be on trial by the defense, if allowed by the judge. Of course, that’s a double edge sword that can also backfire with a jury. Even if Trayvon Martin was not a star student, had issues in school, had marijuana in his system at this death and had fights as a teenager, do these really have anything to do with why he was killed on February 26, 2012?
State of mind of the defendant in asserting self -defense is an issue. George Zimmerman asserts that he was fearful for his life and that Trayvon attempted to reach for Zimmerman’s gun. That’s where the audio of someone’s voice heard screaming may come into play. Apparently, two state’s experts disagree on whose voice is heard on the audio tape. One concludes that it is Trayvon Martin’s voice. Another expert concludes that it is a combination of Trayvon and George Zimmerman’s voices. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the hearings. The presiding judge must rule on whether any audio expert may testify.
Scars on the back of the head of George Zimmerman indicate a fight occurred and that he was apparently either on the ground or struck in the head. No piece of evidence indicates if Trayvon Martin exhibited deadly force against Zimmerman. It is all circumstantial evidence.
There is the direct testimony of Zimmerman, should he take the witness stand. If he takes the stand, the defendant’s character faults will be on display. Remember his credibility suffered a substantial blow when he decided to be less than truthful and honest surrounding his bail hearing and bail issues. His defense team knows they cannot rest on his testimony alone.
There are a lot of what ifs in this case. However, what ifs do not constitute evidence. Except no matter how I try to objectively view the case as a defense attorney and former prosecutor, I am still left with several major what ifs. What if George Zimmerman had heeded the neighborhood watch patrol instructions to patrol the neighborhood without carrying a fire arm? And what if George Zimmerman had obeyed the 911 dispatcher’s advice and not have followed Trayvon Martin. What if George Zimmerman had not taken the law into his own hands instead of just reporting his suspicions to the police and awaiting the police officers’ arrival? What if George Zimmerman had been arrested on the night of the killing?
We can’t turn back the hands of the clock with what ifs. We can only play it forward with a jury trial. The jury trial is set to begin on June 10.
Debbie Hines is a Washington, DC based practicing trial attorney, former Maryland prosecutor and member of the Supreme Court bar who is an expert in criminal law, high profile criminal cases, gun laws, death penalty cases and voting laws. She often addresses legal issues at the intersection of race and crime.