The facts behind the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida continue to slowly emerge. I have previously stated that I view critical facts as murky for a prosecution — even though I believe that there was sufficient evidence to arrest George Zimmerman at the scene. While we have still not seen some of the forensic evidence, a new report indicates that police may have based their initial decisions in part on the statement of a witness. We have been discussing the maddening gap in witness testimony at the critical moment of the confrontation. Now a new report suggests that there may have been a witness to the struggle and that witness reportedly told police that it was Martin who was on top of Zimmerman before the fatal shot was fired.
FOX 35 in Orlando says that it has spoken to the witness. The witness reportedly said that
“The guy on the bottom who had a red sweater on was yelling to me: ‘help, help…and I told him to stop and I was calling 911.” Martin was wearing a hoodie that night and Zimmerman was wearing a red shirt or sweater. A friend of Zimmerman has also come forward to say that Zimmerman looked like a mess after the fight and that he recognized Zimmerman as the voice on the 911 call asking people to help him.
An obvious defense case is emerging for a classic self-defense claim. Zimmerman on the 911 tape admits to have shadowed Martin but says it was Martin who was checking him out and moving toward him a threatening fashion. Zimmerman claims that he was attacked when he was returning to his SUV. Police and counsel reported that Zimmerman had cuts on his face and head and appeared to have been in a struggle. Zimmerman was lawfully carrying a handgun was allowed to use the weapon if he was in reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or death. This includes the possible use of the gun in a struggle of control of the weapon.
While the case has been treated as racially motivated, the Zimmerman family has strongly denied such a motivation — noting that he is a hispanic with many African-American friends. Frankly, Zimmerman does closely resemble an alternative profile — that of a defendant in “Castle Doctrine” or “Stand Your Ground” cases. In these controversies, we often see people who are obsessed with crime and in some cases inclined to use lethal force. That does not mean that race did not play a role here. However, it is possible that Zimmerman was motivated by his well-documented obsession with crime as opposed to race. While I understand the sensitivity to the race issue and have my own suspicions concerning the role of race, I believe it is premature to label this a racially motivated crime without more evidence of such a motive. None of this means that Zimmerman should not be charged, but rather than there remain murky elements to the case. We simply need to know more about such motivations. In terms of the state law, we also need more information (particularly forensic evidence) to better gauge the chances of a conviction in the case. I still find the fact that Zimmerman was armed and outweighed Martin to be the most significant. However, this case is still in its earliest stage in terms of development of the evidence and witnesses. Among other things, if a charge is brought, such evidence could push prosecutors toward a manslaughter claim with a lower likely sentence than second or first degree murder. Even with manslaughter, the prosecutors would have to establish the element beyond a reasonable doubt, including the claim of self-defense. Of course, the mere fact that Martin may have gotten the better of Zimmerman in dominating fight at one point does not mean that Zimmerman was not the original aggressor. It will depend on the full range of witness testimony and, again, the missing forensic evidence.
I was asked last week to sign an online petition demanding the prosecution of Zimmerman. As I have noted, I believe that there is sufficient evidence for an indictment. However, I have never support such public campaigns for indictments. I do not believe in prosecution by plebiscite. Whether there are 100 or 100,000 people demanding an indictment, a prosecutor should not be influenced by such popular outcries. We saw how distortive and corrupting such campaigns can be on prosecutors like Michael Nifong. Prosecutors must based their decisions on the weight of the evidence not the weight of public opinion. Regardless of my views about a possible indictment, I would not want a prosecutor influenced by any petition supporting those views. There is a line between the visceral and the legal and such petitions fall on the wrong side of that line.
Source: Daily Mail