The evidence for the trial of George Zimmerman is slowly taking form. Yesterday, a medical report was disclosed by the family physician of George Zimmerman where the doctor found a “closed fracture” of his nose, a pair of black eyes, two lacerations to the back of his head and a minor back injury the day after he fatally shot Trayvon Martin. While this is the family physician, it would still constitute important evidence in claiming self-defense, particularly when combined with accounts from the paramedics that found injuries to Zimmerman. An autopsy report released today also revealed bruises on Martin’s knuckles, consistent with a fight (though they could be bruises sustained in self-defense). In the meantime, the Justice Department has indicated that it may bring hate crime charges against Zimmerman — charges that would be questionable on the current evidence that has been made public in the case.
The prosecution is likely to explore any differences between the paramedics and the doctor. Some issues are likely to be raise such as whether the paramedics saw a broken nose and whether such “closed fractures” can be easily missed by a paramedic on an street at night. Moreover, such injuries could be sustained by Zimmerman as a result of Martin defending himself.
The leak of possible civil rights charges may be designed to try to get Zimmerman to accept a plea with prosecutors. I have reservations about such a charge based on the evidence that is available — as I have expressed over the overcharging in the case as second degree murder. This case has already raised serious questions of the influence of public pressure on the prosecutors. While there may be additional evidence that would support such a hate crime charge, the current evidence, in my view, falls short of the threshold showing needed for such a charge. The crime is defined as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” The “in part” component gives some wiggle room for prosecutors but you need to still show clear intent on the race issue. While state courts have rejected the need under state law for race to be the “primary” factor, there remains unease in cases where race appears a secondary issue. The Justice Department has sometimes moved against defendants who were acquitted of the same offense under state law as in the Pennsylvania case involving the death of a hispanic man. These cases raise serious questions of when trash talk reflects racial motivations.
We have seen the same type of claim under “Stand Your Ground” in mixed-race shootings without such hate crime allegations. I have previously express unease over the standard used for hate crime charges and the decision to pursue some cases while refusing to move on others with similar or stronger facts. This is a case that could be explained as a crime-obsessed as opposed to a race-obsessed neighborhood watch captain. Indeed, Zimmerman’s past violent record may indicate that he is prone to violence generally. There has been no new evidence revealed that shows that Zimmerman’s shooting was race motivated. His own mixed race background and injuries from the fight militate against such a charge. They certainly do not rule out such a charge, but more has to be shown in my view.
The case is already over-charged as second degree murder. If the Justice Department is going to bring a hate crime charge, it better have stronger evidence than we have seen from Angela Corey to support a second-degree murder charge. Corey was in my view clearly affected by the public pressure in the case in charging the case as second degree murder rather than manslaughter. I am equally troubled by Attorney General Eric Holder discussing the case in public speeches when his department is supposed to be conducting an unbiased review of the facts involving a man who has not been convicted of a crime.
The combination of the leak on the civil rights charges and Holder’s public statements leave the impression that the DOJ will not accept acquittal as an answer in the case if Zimmerman does prevail. The impression, in my view, diminishes the appearance of due process and fair trial for the accused.
What do you think?